THE­ATRE: THE BOYS WHO FED ME

AUS­TRALIA’S OWN WAR HORSE STORY HAS COME TO LIGHT, THANKS TO AN IN­NO­VA­TIVE AND THOUGHT-PRO­VOK­ING NEW PRO­DUC­TION.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT #209 -

AMONG THE for­got­ten he­roes of World War I were the 136,000 mil­i­tary horses sent to the Euro­pean bat­tle­fields along­side the thou­sands of Aus­tralian and New Zealand soldiers. As men per­ished, so did their horses. In fact, of those war horses, only one re­turned to Aus­tralia. His name was Sandy and his story has come to light in the new play As Told By The Boys Who Fed Me Ap­ples.

Writ­ten by Rose­mary Johns, in­spi­ra­tion for the play came af­ter she at­tended a pro­duc­tion of War Horse, where she dis­cov­ered Sandy’s story in the pro­gram. “In writ­ing this play, I wanted the au­di­ence to walk away know­ing Sandy’s story and the story of the for­got­ten men who served with him,” says Rose­mary.

“In my re­search, I spoke to The Friends Of Sandy so­ci­ety and the Aus­tralian Light Horse, where some mem­bers had par­ents who fought in the war. Their mem­o­ries were so vivid I felt that the story was a breath away. This play is an al­ter­nate view of the war, be­cause as it re­cedes we for­get the re­al­ity of it. I wanted au­di­ences to ex­pe­ri­ence the hu­man­ity and com­pas­sion of the bond be­tween horse and man – even in the bru­tal­ity of war.”

The two-man play takes us through three se­quences, the first be­ing Sandy and owner Ma­jorGen­eral Sir Wil­liam Throsby Bridges at Gal­lipoli. The next in­cludes a vet­eri­nar­ian on the West­ern Front then, fi­nally, we see the re­turn home with groom Archibald Thomas Jor­dan, where Sandy’s life draws to an emo­tional con­clu­sion.

Tak­ing on the mul­ti­ple roles of mil­i­tary men is An­dré Jew­son ( The Lion King), who not only morphs con­vinc­ingly from one char­ac­ter to the next, but also helps cap­ture the lov­ing bond be­tween soldiers and the docile Sandy.

“I en­joyed the rigour re­quired to get the, of­ten, com­pli­cated lan­guage and imagery un­der my skin,” says An­dré. “Our di­rec­tor, Greg Car­roll was very in­ter­ested in strength­en­ing the re­la­tion­ships be­tween my char­ac­ters and the horse, so we worked that in in a few dif­fer­ent ways. The con­nec­tion be­tween man and horse is very clear in the writ­ing so it was about hon­our­ing that, while also al­low­ing our­selves to play to­gether as ac­tors and let­ting the com­plic­ity be­tween us blos­som.”

Sandy is played by Euro­pean mime artist Mik­los Gerely, who art­fully man­ages to en­cap­su­late all the gen­til­ity and strength of the spirit of a horse along with the fear ex­pe­ri­enced by war horses.

“I watched horses to find out how I could show their most im­por­tant phys­i­cal qual­i­ties,” says Gerely. “I re­alised I had a de­fi­ciency in my legs but a sur­plus in my arms, so I played only the front part of the horse, hid­ing my arms al­to­gether. Horses ex­press emo­tion us­ing their front legs and by turn­ing their head, so I used that. An­other im­por­tant as­pect is their eyes, which are big and mir­ror-like. I don’t think they ex­press emo­tions through their eyes, but I do think they are mir­ror­ing hu­man emo­tions, so I used my eyes and fa­cial ex­pres­sions to mir­ror and am­plify An­dré’s feel­ings.”

Sur­pris­ingly, the play in­cludes an­thro­po­mor­phic mo­ments when Sandy takes on hu­man char­ac­ter­is­tics. In one clever scene, Sandy and his groom fan­ta­sise about go­ing to the movies – spe­cial men­tion should be made here of light­ing de­signer Shane Grant’s f lick­er­ing cin­e­matic treat­ment.

Hav­ing played to full houses at Mel­bourne’s LaMama The­atre, As Told By The Boys Who Fed

Me Ap­ples is ex­pected to tour in the next twelve months. Heart­warm­ing and at times heart wrench­ing, this the­atri­cal ex­pe­ri­ence brings a new per­spec­tive to the Gal­lipoli nar­ra­tive. Many lost he­roes f ly un­der the radar; thank­fully Sandy now gets his day in the sun.

AS TOLD BY THE BOYS WHO FED ME AP­PLES (ABOVE) MIK­LOS GERELY AS SANDY AN­DRÉ JEW­SON (RIGHT) IN THE HU­MAN ROLES.

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