The astonishing and awe-inspiring tour de force that is War Horse will be travelling to our shores again next year, and the anticipation is mounting – every pun intended!
The National Theatre of Great Britain’s Olivier and Tony Award winning production is a unique and creative theatrical experience that resonates with audiences long after the final curtain – a beautiful, endearing and heart wrenching tale that, says Scott Miller who plays the central role of Albert Narracott, really stands on its own in terms of what it is and what effect it can have on an audience.
“It takes you on a journey from rural Devon to the battlefields in France. It’s a huge piece of theatre with extravagant moving sets and puppets but also at the same time has beautiful, simplistic and delicate moments running throughout. I can’t think of another, if any plays that do that whilst keeping the core of the story so simple and clear.”
Miller spent ten years at the Scottish Youth Theatre and is a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He made his debut as War Horse Joey’s loyal and loving owner earlier this year when the tour started in Glasgow. A dream role indeed that began with a call from his agent who advised that The National were casting for the new world tour of War Horse and that Miller had an audition for Albert in two weeks’ time
“It was probably the most intense audition process I’ve ever been through,” says Miller. “Over the period of about two months I had seven auditions and each one was very different from the one before.”
Miller explains that the first audition was pretty normal, reading a few of the scenes and having a chat with the director. Then they got a bit harder as they involved Miller riding Joey and improvising some scenes with him.
“In the final audition I had to perform every scene I had done over the first six auditions but the difference was that I was getting filmed this time. Performing for the stage is a completely different craft than for camera so it was a real challenge to blend the two together. However in saying that, my audition process for War Horse was easily the most relaxed and friendly environment I’ve been involved in for a casting.”
A final nod to the notion that an actor’s fortune can turn on a dime came when, on the day that Miller was told he had the job, he was working at a bar.
Miller had seen the play once before when he was about 15, so when he got the chance to audition he had a vague memory of what it was like. Miller acknowledges that that helped when reading the script for the first time.
“It felt strangely familiar,” he says. “I don’t know if my connection has changed at all since my first reading. There’s still an excitement and freshness attached that I hope never goes away.”
An astonishing and talented array of puppeteers are responsible for the life-like and expressive puppets that live during the course of this play. In fact, countless hours of rehearsal time needs to be devoted to puppet and actor interaction as Miller explains.
” There’s lots of challenges when playing a part like Albert. One of them is when I have to jump on top of Joey at the start of the play. There’s a point in rehearsals (I think it was about the 3 week mark) where you start practising for it. Lots of practise jumps where you are just trying to see if you can get the right height first, before learning the technique of swinging your body 180 degrees in mid-air, and landing softly without putting too much pressure on the puppeteers beneath you. That’s a real challenge and took a long time to learn.”
Miller confides that it’s a long process getting this show to a performance standard. Over a period of about two months, rehearsals were scheduled pretty much every day. Miller reveals that the scenes can get to a high standard pretty quickly but it’s the backstage stuff that takes the most time.
” It’s almost like learning a dance. A tank flies down from the ceiling, three or four horses move from one side of the stage to another, boxes, helmets and bayonets are issued out seconds before a shutter moves to reveal 12 soldiers. All of that can happen in the space of 20 seconds so it’s essential that everyone knows exactly what’s happening at all times. That’s the magic of the show that no one gets to see.”
Luckily, learning the Devon accent was not quite as stressful for Miller – who hails from Cumbernauld – due to his amazing voice coach, as well as one of his best friends coming from the county, which, says Miller, helped a lot.
War Horse is a stunning and unforgettable visualization of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel which centres on Joey, a horse purchased by the Army for service in World War I France, and the attempts of young Albert, his previous owner, to bring him safely home. Albert as a character is nuanced and multi-layered and a dream for any actor. Miller agrees saying that he really enjoys being able to perform a part with such a great journey. Starting as a young, naive boy who somehow finds himself with a horse, to a man fighting in WW1 and everything else in between.
“It’s a dream for an actor,” he says. ” My favourite performance of War Horse is my next one. I think it’s healthy to look at it like that. If I didn’t then I think I would always be trying to recreate or remember a performance already passed.”
Miller still marvels at his good fortune, stating that he’s been involved in drama and theatre all his life but never thought it was actually a realistic career path until he left school. “I was really lucky to have some amazing people give me great advice at the right time.”
Set against the backdrop of the horror and indignity war, War Horse is ultimately an ode to the tenacity of the human spirit – indelible and inspiring.
Regent Theatre, Melbourne from 10 January 2020
Lyric Theatre, Sydney from 15 February 2020
Crown Theatre, Perth from 24 March 2020
Tickets on sale now for Melbourne, Sydney and Perth seasons at warhorseonstage.com.au
For more information, please visit https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
Images: Ellie Kurttz
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