The journey of War Horse from earliest sources and through its various guises has been a roller coaster and a sheer joy for me and for many others involved, culminating now in this truly wonderful recording.
The journey starts with a place, a small village in deepest Devon, where our family had gone to live forty or more years ago, largely because my wife Clare had loved the place so much when she was a small girl.
Soon after moving in, to start our educational charity, Farms for City Children, I met by chance a local man in the pub one day who I knew had been to the First World War, and we talked. Here was no poet, no historian, but someone who had been there, told it straight. He took me on a journey back in time to the trenches, told me how it was to live through it, his hopes and fears. I discovered through him two other octogenarians who had been there too, one of them 'with horses', in the cavalry.
An idea occurred that if I tried to tell the tale of this war, of its universal suffering, then a horse might do the telling. Begin it in our village, I thought, a beloved farm horse of a farm boy, sold away by the boy's father. Follow the horse to the War, to his capture by the Germans, to his home for a while on a French farm, see the War through his eyes, from all sides. A million horses had died alongside our million men who died. They were witnesses too, and they suffered as the soldiers suffered.
The book came out, was hardly noticed, sold ordinarily. But I loved it, and so did the few who had read it. It stayed in print for more than 25 years, rather languishing on my back list. Then out of the blue a director from the National Theatre, Tom Morris, contacted me, saying he thought War Horse might work well on stage, with puppets taking the main roles. It did not seem a promising idea to me. But the National Theatre already had a fine record over the years of adapting children's literature for the stage, and Tom showed me the remarkable work of Handspring Puppets from South Africa. It might work, I thought.
Two years of workshopping and rehearsals later they staged the play of War Horse at the Olivier Theatre. The combination of the unique puppetry, Rae Smith's brilliant design, the music of Adrian Sutton, the songmaking of John Tams, the lighting, the sound, the remarkable direction of Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott, stunned audiences. 7 million people all over the world have seen it since, one of them being Steven Spielberg, who made a major feature film. And so with the play and film, the book caught on too, showing up on bestseller lists in the UK and the US. Rae Smith produced a wonderful edition of the book with illustrations from the stage show.
Adrian Sutton wrote a concert piece for full orchestra that he called War Horse Suite. John Tams, with me and folk singer Barry Coope, made a concert in which we wove the text from the book and the songs from the play. I read, they sang. We have played it up and down the country to great acclaim. Then came the idea to create a concert with choir, orchestra, solo singer, the story to be read by two voices, and to be performed at the Royal Albert Hall. Joanna Lumley, with whom I had worked before, would narrate with me, and Rae Smith would illustrate live on stage, her drawings projected on a huge screen. It was an extraordinarily ambitious weaving of music, story, and pictures. And it worked! The audience responded with huge enthusiasm.
And now that unique concert has been recorded, and in the same year that the National Theatre production begins another extensive tour of the UK. So the journey, which began all those years ago in our little village in Devon, goes on. Great things from small beginnings grow, from the story, to the play, to the film, to the concert, and now to this supreme recording.
THE STORY IN CONCERT
MICHAEL MORPURGO JOANNA LUMLEY
TIM VAN EYKEN
ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA