shows: Warhorse stamps its hooves in Aus­tralia ....................

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - CONTENTS -

LIKE all horses, their ears twitch in­quis­i­tively. A shake of the mane is fol­lowed by a swish of the tail, a fa­mil­iar clip-clop sound, a high-pitched neigh, even the oc­ca­sional rear on to hind legs.

Squint your eyes and these tow­er­ing cre­ations look and be­have ex­actly like horses. Move closer though and their sleek bod­ies are made from cane and gauze, steel and leather, their move­ments con­trolled by peo­ple oper­at­ing un­der­neath.

This is the the­atri­cal world of War Horse, where life-sized pup­pets are the im­pos­ing stars of the stage. With a se­ries of Lau­rence Olivier and Tony Awards un­der the sad­dle, the ac­claimed Na­tional The­atre pro­duc­tion is ar­riv­ing for sea­sons in Mel­bourne, Sydney and Bris­bane.

In­spired by the best-sell­ing 1982 chil­dren’s novel by Michael Mor­purgo, War Horse is the story of a young horse owner, Al­bert, who has to sell his horse, Joey, to the British army to be used on the bat­tle­fields dur­ing World War I.

Ac­cord­ing to War Horse’s the­atri­cal di­rec­tor Drew Barr, the story’s res­o­nance rests on hav­ing one foot in re­al­ity.

‘‘When you’re ask­ing the au­di­ence to in­vest emo­tion­ally in the story of a horse it has to be as life­like as pos­si­ble,’’ says Barr.

‘‘We’ve taken a horse as the cen­tral char­ac­ter with the goal of him be­hav­ing like the real thing. Ev­ery­body in the cast lives with Joey like he’s a liv­ing and breath­ing an­i­mal.’’

The all-Aus­tralian cast of War Horse has been re­hears­ing for eight weeks, the most gru­elling regimes forced upon the three-man teams who con­trol the horses. Split be­tween the head, heart and be­hind, the teams rely on syn­chro­nised breath­ing to get the move­ments right. They have to trot, fight and, like any horse, carry a hu­man.

A mix­ture of ac­tors and pup­peteers, their suc­cess ‘in the cage’ re­lies on in­stinct and prac­tice. They spend hours ob­serv­ing the be­hav­iour of horses and em­u­late their nat­u­ral char­ac­ter­is­tics.

‘‘I spend ev­ery morn­ing in the shower mak­ing horse noises,’’ laughs John Shear­man, the ‘head’ of Joey.

His team ini­tially strug­gled to walk but are now mak­ing strides to­wards be­com­ing a fully func­tion­ing horse in time for the show pre­miere in Mel­bourne on De­cem­ber 31.

War Horse plays the Lyric The­atre, at QPAC, in Bris­bane, from July 11 to Au­gust 4.

‘‘Joey’’ with Finn Cald­well di­rec­tor of puppetry for War Horse.

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