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Creative Team

Directors: Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris

Designer/Drawings: Rae Smith

Puppet Design and Fabrication: Basil Jones & Adrian Kohler

Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

Director of Movement: Toby Sedgwick

Songmaker: John Tams

Music: Adrian Sutton

Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt

Video Designers: Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer

Cast List

Major Nicholls : Jamie Ballard

Swallow/Emilie : Alice Barclay

Chapman Carter/ Rudi : Jason Barnett

Sgt Bone/ Col Strauss/ Sgt Fine : James Barriscale

Capt. Stewart/Soldat Schmidt : Simon Bubb

Goose/ Topthorn/ Veterinary Officer Martin : Finn Caldwell

David Taylor/ Soldat Schultz : Paul Chequer

Song Man : Tim van Eyken

Young Joey/ Topthorn : Thomas Goodridge

Dr Schweyk/ Coco, a horse/ Geordie : Stephen Harper

Rose Narracott/ Private Shaw : Thusitha Jayasundera

Veterinary Officer Bright/ Karl : Gareth Kennerley

Crow/ Joey : Craig Leo

Young Joey/ Emilie : Rachel Leonard

Topthorn/ Major Callaghan : Tim Lewis

Joey : Tommy Luther

Young Joey/ Emilie : Mervyn Millar

Paulette/ Crow : Emily Mytton

Swallow/ Joey/ Crow : Toby Olie

Ted Narracott/ Coco, a horse : Toby Sedgwick

Ned Warren : Ashley Taylor-Rhys/ Heine, a horse

Albert Narracott : Luke Treadaway

Sergeant Thunder/ Soldat Klebb : Howard Ward

Arthur Warren/ Soldat Manfred : Alan Williams

Heine, a horse/ Ensemble : Matthew Woodyatt

Hauptmann Friedrich Muller : Angus Wright

War Horse

National Theatre, Olivier


At the outbreak of World War One, Joey, young Albert's beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. he's soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man's land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

About this project

Central to Rae Smith’s set design is a 25 metre wide, irregular projection screen, resembling a torn strip of paper, that forms the focus of a design which is otherwise minimalist and transient.

The screen serves a number of purposes, having projected upon it drawings which provide, in turn, literal and psychological landscapes. It is used as a medium to establish location, show the passing of time and to mimic motion. For example, snippets of images move the audience from a Devon farmscape to no man’s land, via a sinking horizon which imitates the movement of a ship across water.

There is a pronounced contrast in screen content between the first and second halves. In the first, sepia tones are used to convey much of the subject matter for the pastoral Devon scenes. The second half, by contrast, draws upon the more aggressive and abstract Vorticism used by the war artists, augmented by stark shadow puppetry.

This ‘shift in palette’ as was the result of close collaboration between Rae Smith, Paule Constable and the video designers Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer of Fifty Nine Productions Ltd.

Leo and Mark developed the visual language of the screen - which runs throughout the entire show - over a period of several weeks during rehearsals, ensuring the journey from rural idyll to the horror of war was carefully developed alongside the stage action.

In addition to the archival research and bespoke filming required, Leo and Mark incorporated drawings, executed by Rae herself, which then underwent considerable manipulation, turning Rae's monochrome drawings into multi-layered images which were graded and treated to create a cohesive whole with the lighting and stage picture.

Some of this involved the creation of movement – for example, tracking and panning ‘camera-style’ around images such as the sketch of a galloping horse and rider - and creating special effects like water, blood, smoke and explosions. Textures were also created on the screen, moving from sepia and faded-out paper, through various stages of stained and battered surfaces to the photography in the penultimate scene.

Most of the above is excerpted with kind permission from Julie Harper, from an article for Light & Sound International

Selected Reviews

'So exhilarating that it makes you rejoice to be alive.'

'Sweeping drama of extraordinary power. Its sheer skill and invention are simply awe-inspiring.'

The Times ***** Read the full review

'After the success of His Dark Materials and Coram Boy, the National Theatre has acquired a deserved reputation for its epic family shows. With War Horse, based on the novel by the former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, it has topped even those magnificent productions.'

'Superbly designed by Rae Smith, brilliantly lit by Paule Constable and using all the technical resources of the Olivier stage.'

Daily Telegraph ***** Read the full review

'Contains some of the best puppetry I have seen.'

'An astonishingly complete performance? War Horse has a huge heart, stirring music, an endearing performance by Luke Treadaway, and will have you sobbing all the way back to the car park. Loved it.'

Daily Mail *****

'The National has dramatically raised the stakes when it comes to shows for the over-12s.'

'Brilliant work of the Handspring Puppet Company, who give Joey, his companion Topthorn, and a bevy of steeds an articulated life. Even Equus pales in comparison with the dazzling puppet design.'

Guardian ****

'A remarkable achievement... an astonishing piece of theatre.'

Time Out *****

'The National's proud tradition continues now with this extraordinarily fresh and moving production of War Horse.'

'Staged with thrilling flair by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris in the epic space of the Olivier, the show establishes its singular identity through the use of uncannily beautiful equine puppets created by the South African company, Handspring.'

'A superlative sense of emotional depth.'


'I could hardly believe how lifelike the thoroughbred and his handsome, best horse-friend, Topthorn, , Michael Morpurgo's classic novel for children.'

'Spectacular production by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, well acted by a huge cast.'

'This, though, is a fine, lyrical, emotionally charged piece of theatrical work that evokes a vanished, hierarchic England at war. It will achieve a rapt hold on audiences.'

'The production achieves an epic scope and scale? Thrilling.'

Evening Standard

'War Horse only confirms the National'?s extraordinary knack of turning children's literature into the finest drama. Stunning.'

Sunday Times *****

'War Horse is pure animal magic... Thanks to the National, children's theatre is riding higher than ever.'

Mail on Sunday *****

'A grand National treasure.'

'A triumph of theatricality... a heart-stopping staging of Michael Morpurgo's First World War story.'

'War Horse will be one of the National's biggest ever hits.'

'Brilliantly served by two of the National's most exhilarating directorial talents: Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris... together, they create an unforgettable stage ballad.'

'War Horse moves Hytner's children's project into another dimension.'


'Straight after coming home from seeing War Horse... I went online to book tickets to see it again... and so should you.'

'An extraordinary piece of theatre that is at once both epic and intimate, absolutely guaranteed to move the heart.'

'A thrilling, occasionally chilling journey into the darkness of the First World War.'

'A show for all ages and all time.'

'Everything about this production has an engrossing magnificence, from Rae Smith's fluid set designs and projected drawings, sculpturally lit by Paul Constable, to Adrian Sutton's gorgeously atmospheric music and John Tams' songs.'

'A faultless cast... inhabit its world totally and so will you as you shed tears watching it.'

Sunday Express *****

The show's life-size steeds... designed by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of Handspring Puppet Company... are absolutely magnificent... like some mechanical wonder conceived by Leonardo da Vinci. These creatures seem to have a miraculous life of their own.'

'A touching and extraordinary evening.'

Independent on Sunday

'A marvellous piece of theatre, often desolate, often terrible, often moving and finally uplifting. By the end everyone around me, young and old, was hunting for a handkerchief.'

'The staging, by Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott, is excellent.'

Financial Times ****

'Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott's frequently electrifying production.'

Metro ****

'There are few theatres than can boast the sight of a boy galloping on a full-sized horse ... it's one of the most beautiful moments ever to grace a London stage.'

thelondonpaper ****

'As a soul-stirring treat, not untinged with bitterness, for all the family this Christmas, or as an example of how theatre can be created from disparate components... puppetry, lighting, movement and sound... War Horse will not be surpassed by any show this year.'

Whatsonstage ****