Morpurgo’s “War Horse”

War Horse

Here’s a link to a Telegraph interview with Michael Morpurgo about War Horse, the play that will soon be coming on at the National Theatre.

I’ve previously been very critical of Morpurgo’s WW1 novel, Private Peaceful, but War Horse has a genuinely interesting theme, the millions of horses that trudged around behind the front lines, and  often suffered grimly. There are powerful scenes in Richard Blaker’s Medal Without Bar (1930) involving the shooting of a wounded horse.

The play is co-directed by Marianne Elliot, who did a powerful job on the National’s St Joan recently, and uses puppetry, which is an art form I’m a great fan (and occasional practitioner) of. The puppets look superb; they are deliberately skeletal so that the artifice is apparent. I like that idea.

On the other hand – I still feel dubious about this. In the interview Morpurgo says his initial impetus came from reading about the suffering of soldiers. Using the horses gave him a way to depict the awfulness of the war. So do horses represent men? I’m uneasy about that. The problem with his Private Peaceful is that he showed soldiers as mute (and rather stupid) powerless victims – contributing more to the myth of the war than to its understanding. Will this play equate horses with men and do the same? Well, if they’re still selling the cheapo £10 Travelex tickets that made The Emperor Jones such excellent value, I may go and find out.



  1. Posted October 15, 2007 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    If he’s equating men and horses that would potentially be insulting to both. The suffering of animals should be interesting in its own right and not just as a convenient metaphor for human suffering. Having said that it’s difficult to steer a safe course between anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism when writing about animals. I wonder how Morpurgo’s work will compare with Black Beauty.

  2. Andy Frayn
    Posted October 15, 2007 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure it won’t have as good a theme tune, that’s for sure.

    I have to say I didn’t like ‘Private Peaceful’ for many of the reasons George has mentioned in his other post, and I don’t like the concept here. It smacks of the likelihood of more of the same, the unsubtle reinforcing of easily-repeated stereotypes. I just hope he’s read ‘Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man’, and possibly also parts of Mottram’s ‘Spanish Farm’ trilogy.

    I suppose we should defer judgement; I look forward to reading the review once George has been to see it!

  3. Posted October 19, 2007 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    The newspaper reviews of War Horse are all highly complimentary; the puppetry seems to be astonishingly accomplished.
    Unusually for a play about the Great War,only one newspaper review that I have seen (in The Daily Telegraph) uses the word “futility” to sum up the conflict.
    A sign that the play is less cliché-prone than most? From what I can gather, it has kept Morpurgo’s basic story, but treats it very freely – not using an anthropomorphised horse as narrator, for example.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    what is the climax????????????/

  5. Roger
    Posted November 14, 2018 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    An unenthusiastic view of the film:

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