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Canterbury: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, performed by the National Theatre, comes to the Marlowe Theatre

A tale of courage, loyalty and friendship set against the backdrop of the First World War, War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, is the most successful play in the National Theatre’s history.

It celebrates its 10th anniversary next month and kicks off a national tour at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury – a theatre with great significance for its author, as his parents met there.

Rehearsals at the theatre have been taking place for three weeks. One of the show’s biggest stars, however, is not human – he is the famous, lifelike horse puppet, created by the Handspring Puppet Company, built of steel, leather and aircraft cables.

The National Theatre's War Horse is at the Marlowe for its 10th anniversary
The National Theatre's War Horse is at the Marlowe for its 10th anniversary

Based on Michael’s book, which he wrote while teaching near Canterbury, it tells the story of Albert, whose father sells his horse Joey to the British cavalry.

Albert, unable to forget his friend, searches the battlefields to find Joey and bring him home.

James Backway in War Horse
James Backway in War Horse

War Horse received its world premiere in October 2007 at the National Theatre and has since been seen by more than seven million people worldwide and won 25 awards.

Marlowe Theatre director Mark Everett said it was a great honour to have been chosen to launch the tour. He said: “There’s an excited buzz around the theatre now the National have finally arrived."


For author Michael Morpurgo, Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre has a special place in his heart.

“My mother and father were acting in rep at the Marlowe in 1938,” he says. “I believe it was where they fell in love and decided to get married. They were young, and no doubt full of hope for the future. The Second World War was to blight their lives and their marriage. I grew up in a family scarred by war. This was, I am sure, why I came to write War Horse all those years ago, why peace and war have been at the heart of so many stories I have written before and since.”

Michael Morpurgo, whose book War Horse was adapted for the stage
Michael Morpurgo, whose book War Horse was adapted for the stage

"The book wasn’t really successful – it was 25 years before anyone came along and showed an interest in it. What I really love doing is telling stories in which you express what you feel about the world.”

Writing with animals has been an integral part of his stories. With War Horse, Joey the horse is as real a character as Albert, who searches for Joey through the battlefields of France.

“Whenever I write a story, the animals become very real. I can see the stories very clearly in my mind’s eye. For War Horse, I observed for many years the interaction between my wife and my horse on the farm,” he says.

Two horses from the show at Canterbury Cathedral
Two horses from the show at Canterbury Cathedral

He has been involved with the adaptation of his books to the stage, relishing being part of it. “I go and talk to the cast about where it is set and where it was imagined. It gives them some sense of the idea behind the story. I love to go and see them rehearse. Sometimes if I am lucky they say I can go on stage too – I have got a costume which I keep at home.

"They all know that what this play is about, something unspeakably awful and terrible,” he says, adding: “They have a responsibility to work with that – they have to feel the history.”

For the full interview with Michael Morpurgo, see this week's What's On.


War Horse will be at the Marlowe Theatre from Friday, September 15, to Saturday, October 14. When they went on sale, they set a record for the most sold in a day – 2,499.

There is limited availability for most shows, and some nights are sold out. To book go to marlowetheatre.com or call 01227 787787.

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