The West End theatre smash hit, which has been seen by over six million people worldwide, War Horse has just welcomed a brand new cast to its stage.
The critically acclaimed War Horse production, based on the novel written by Michael Morpurgo, tells the moving tale of a horse sold by “Albert” to the cavaly upon the outbreak of World War I, and is subsequently shipped to France. “Joey” is soon caught up in enemy lines until he eventually finds himself in no man’s land. Albert, still not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.
Horse & Hound caught up with James Backway, who plays the lead role of Albert Narracott in the show, to find out more about the production and how he is helping to bring the story of War Horse to life.
1. A new experience
Although James is dealing with a “horse” on a daily basis, he admits that prior to his call up to War Horse he had had very limited previous experience with the animals. “My granny used to have horses in a field next to her house, but I have never ridden before,” he says. “To learn about equine behaviour I spent hours watching videos on YouTube, to help make my relationship with Joey on stage completely authentic.”
2. Holding back the tears
James went to see the stage production of War Horse three times before he took to the stage himself. “I cried like a baby when I saw the production the first couple of times,” he confesses. “I was trying to hold back the tears so much that it hurt, but they always came through in the end! The third time was just after I had been cast as Albert, so I was so busy taking notes that I didn’t have time to cry.”
3. Believing in puppets
How easy to act alongside are the Handspring puppets used to bring the animals of War Horse alive? “The puppets are so well crafted and acted by the puppeteers that it really is very easy to act with them. You have to make sure that you give the puppets the respect they deserve, as you would a real-life animal, and if I do something wrong the puppeteers will let me know via either a kick, rear, breath or noise! We have fun with it and bounce off each other really well,” explains James.
4. Life among the cast
With the job of acting in such an emotionally charged show on an almost daily basis, James has an innate ability to switch off after each performance. “There is a really chilled atmosphere among the cast, and we are all able to remain focused during the show while still being able to enjoy ourselves. Yes I get nervous, but it is more of a productive energy rather than anything else — this is my dream job afterall!”
Horse & Hound caught up with Chris Milford, who is the man responsible for playing Joey's heart in the theatre
5. Envying his character
James surprisingly admits that he envys parts of Albert’s character. “I was born in Croydon,” he explains. “I had limited access to the countryside and there wasn’t a great deal of oportunity for free-roaming. Albert lives in rural Devon, and prior to the war lived a simple life, based on outdoor life. It’s that part of Albert that I envy, and it makes playing him all the more enjoyable.”
6. Adding some twists
There have been quite a few Alberts in the history of the War Horse show in Britain. Is James able to put his own twist on his character? “Yes, there is no brief with Albert — the directors trust me to have fun with the character while remaining true to his roots,” says James. “The first ever Albert in the show was played as a very vulnerable type, whereas the second Albert was still vulnerable but there were moments where he was a bit of a lad too. I am now able to act the character out within this range, which makes it great fun. It also means that if you saw the show a while back, it is very different now, so it is well worth paying it another visit!”
7. His favourite bit
“My favourite part of the show has to be when Joey the foal first appears on stage. I like the feeling that the audience give off as they get their heads around this animal, which is so life like, but is a puppet. There is this intense energy that can’t be matched.”
War Horse is at the New London Theatre. For further information and tickets please visit: www.warhorseonstage.com