Massive Bodies in Mortal Performance

War Horse and the Staging of Anglo-American Equine Experience in Combat
  • Kim Marra


In an ongoing London run, a Tony-winning run at New York’s Lincoln Center, and tours of North America, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Berlin, and, China, the hit play War Horse (2007) powerfully conjures equine bodies in the First World War to highlight the unprecedented slaughter and devastation and critique the ineffectuality of military action. The play was adapted for the National Theatre of Great Britain by Nick Stafford from a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo told, à la Black Beauty, through the eyes of a war horse called Joey. Morpurgo wrote the story in tribute to the eight million equines who were killed, more than one million from England alone, as traditional cavalry formations came up against the modern technologies that would render them obsolete. When the army takes Joey for service, Albert Narracott, the Devon farm boy who raised him, vows to find him. In a Brechtian epic style, using life-sized horse puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, the play dramatizes Joey’s and Albert’s interwoven journeys across the combat zone. Its storytelling engages audiences on both sides of the Atlantic as the centenary of the First World War and the sesquicentenary of the Civil War, the costliest American conflict in human and equine blood, proceed.1 In so doing, the play evokes not only an explicit history of horses in war but also an unacknowledged parallel history of horses on stage dramatizing war.


National Theatre Live Horse Physical Language Black Beauty Cast Member 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bratton, J. S. 1980. ‘Theatre of War: Crimea on the London Stage, 1854–5’. In D. Bradby, L. James and B. Shanatt (eds), Performance and Politics in Popular Drama (pp. 126–33). Cambridge, London and New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bratton, J. S. and J. Traies 1980. Theatre in Focus: Astley’s Amphitheatre. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey.Google Scholar
  3. DiMarco, L. A. 2008). War Horse: The Military Horse and Rider. Yardley PA: Westholme.Google Scholar
  4. Edwards, E. H. 2000. The New Encyclopedia of the Horse, 2nd American edition. New York: Dorling Kindersley.Google Scholar
  5. ‘The First World War’. New London Theatre Programme Extra, March/April 2010, n.p.Google Scholar
  6. ‘Getting into Horse’. 2009. Extra Feature on Making War Horse (video recording). London: National Theatre/Seventh Art.Google Scholar
  7. Hacker, J. D. 2011. ‘A Census-Based Account of the Civil War Dead’. Civil War History. 57A: 306–47. Available from Project MUSE.Google Scholar
  8. ‘Hippodrome’s Opening Seen by Thousands’. 1905. New York Times, 13 April 1905, p. 11.Google Scholar
  9. Hoche, J. 2012. Personal Interview. Des Moines, Iowa, 15 December 2012, following a matinee performance of the US War Horse tour.Google Scholar
  10. Jazynka, K. 2011. ‘Horses on Broadway’. Horse Illustrated, August 2011, p. 12.Google Scholar
  11. Kopelman, J. 2011. ‘For the Love of Dogs’. Lincoln Center Theater Review 55 (Spring): 15–18.Google Scholar
  12. ‘The Magical Life of Objects: An Interview with Adrian Köhler and Basil Jones’. 2011. Lincoln Center Theater Review 55 (Spring): 10–14.Google Scholar
  13. ‘Making Horses Gallop and Audiences Cry’. 2009. New York Times, 14 July 2009. (accessed 29 July 2013).
  14. Mattania, F. 1916. ‘Good-Bye, Old Man’. The Sphere, 24 June 1916, p. 276. (accessed 3November 2013).
  15. McShane, C. T. and J. A. Tan. 2007. The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Millar, M. (2007) The Horse’s Mouth: Staging Morpurgo’s War Horse (London: National Theatre).Google Scholar
  17. Osborne, L. 2011. ‘The Horse That Went to War’. Newsweek, 18 April 2011, p. 54.Google Scholar
  18. Roberts, M. 2011. ‘Bringing a Horse Onstage’. Lincoln Center Theater Review 55 (Spring): 20–2.Google Scholar
  19. Saxon, A. H. 1968. Enter Foot and Horse: A History of Hippodrama in England and France. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Schofield, A.W. 2010. ‘Battlefield Dispatches No. 208: “War Horses’”. Fort Scott Tribune, [Kansas] 2 April 2010. (accessed 30 July 2013).
  21. Stafford, N. 2007. War Horse, Adapted for the Stage from the Novel by Michael Morpurgo. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  22. ’Visit to the King’s Troop’. Extra Feature on Making War Horse (video recording). London: National Theatre/Seventh Art.Google Scholar
  23. War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford in association with the Handspring Puppet Company. Directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris [London, New London Theatre, 17 March 2010 and 18 June 2013; New York, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, 3 December 2011 and 12 July 2012].Google Scholar
  24. War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford in association with the Handspring Puppet Company. Original co-direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris; US tour directed by Bijan Sheibani [Des Moines, Iowa, Civic Center, 15 December 2012].Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kim Marra 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kim Marra
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IowaUSA

Personalised recommendations