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Author Michael Morpurgo talks about story of War Horse ahead of Norwich visit

PUBLISHED: 21:55 04 July 2017 | UPDATED: 21:55 04 July 2017

Children's author Michael Morpurgo giving a talk to young people at Open as part of Young Norfolk Arts Festival.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Children's author Michael Morpurgo giving a talk to young people at Open as part of Young Norfolk Arts Festival. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

The novel War Horse has been turned into a play, a film and more. Ahead of bringing a concert version to Norwich, author Michael Morpurgo talks to Emma Knights.

War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg. War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg.

When author Michael Morpurgo first published the poignant story of War Horse in 1982, little did he know what a runaway success it would become.

But since penning the powerful tale of Joey the horse and young Albert, and their experiences in the First World War, War Horse has become famous around world, with the National Theatre creating an acclaimed stage adaptation and Steven Spielberg turning it into a movie. There have also been special concert versions of War Horse, and Michael Morpurgo is bringing one of those to St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, on July 9 for this year’s Young Norfolk Arts Festival.

“What is lovely is it’s yet another version of the story,” he said, “We have had it in a book, there’s this iconic play with the puppets that has travelled the world with the National Theatre and out of the play came the film because Steven Spielberg saw the show and liked it. Then there’s been these concerts.”

When asked what people can expect from the July 9 performance - called War Horse: Only Remembered - Mr Morpurgo said: “I read an edited verson of the story and we have a wonderful folk singer, Ben Murray, he was a songman in the play for about two years, and we weave the story together.”

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. Photo: supplied by Philippa Perry. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. Photo: supplied by Philippa Perry.

He said he liked this version because it was so intimate.

“It’s not a big production. It’s a singer and a storyteller and the audience,” he said.

“It’s the most intimate of all the shows and for a story which is a tough and tender story about war and peace and reconciliation it’s very appropriate.”

He added: “It’s also the one [version] I’m most involved in, although in the film my wife and I had walk on parts in the market scene at the beginning. I have also taken part a few times in the National Theatre production of the play as a walk on part.”

Young Norfolk Arts Festival 2017 - War Horse: Only Remembered with Michael Morpurgo is on July 2 at St Andrew�s Hall in Norwich.
Here Michael Morpurgo is pictured with young people at a previous Young Norfolk Arts Festival. Photo: SIMON FINLAY. Young Norfolk Arts Festival 2017 - War Horse: Only Remembered with Michael Morpurgo is on July 2 at St Andrew�s Hall in Norwich. Here Michael Morpurgo is pictured with young people at a previous Young Norfolk Arts Festival. Photo: SIMON FINLAY.

He explained the idea for his novel began while he was talking to war veteran Wilf Ellis in his local pub, the Duke of York, in Iddesleigh, Devon.

“I was just chatting to him about the war, and he said, ‘I was there with horses.’ and he told me about his regiment and the horse that he loved,” said Mr Morpurgo.

Inspired to find out more about horses in the First World War, Mr Morpurgo contacted the Imperial War Museum where he discovered one million British horses went to war but only 65,000 returned.

Mr Morpurgo modestly credits the National Theatre production for his novel’s huge success.

Michael Morpurgo. Photo: supplied by Philippa Perry. Michael Morpurgo. Photo: supplied by Philippa Perry.

“The reason the book became well known was because of the play and the director at the National Theatre, Tom Morris,” he said, adding it was the director’s mum hearing him on the radio that sparked off the idea for the play.

“I was on Desert Island Discs and she thought the book sounded interesting and bought it. She knew her son was looking for something for the National Theatre. He was looking for a story with an animal at the heart of it, the puppets were going to be the stars. She rang him and said, ‘read this book.’”

It took about two years to translate the book from the page to stage and War Horse opened in 2007 at the National Theatre, before going to the West End and Broadway and touring the world. It will begin a UK tour starting in Canterbury in September.

“The play is the most wonderful thing, you cannot get luckier than to get your book picked to be a play like War Horse,” Mr Morpurgo said.

War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg. War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg.

“It’s the best of British theatre brought together to create this story on the stage, and the wonderful thing is that it crosses the generations. Each generation - grandparents, parents and children - understand this story differently and bring their own life stories to it, but they all relate to it.”

He said he hoped the concert coming to Norwich would similarly bring the different generations together.

The Norwich event is raising funds for Young Norfolk Arts Festival and Farms For City Children, an organisation set up by Mr Morpurgo and his wife Clare to give children who may otherwise not have the opportunity the chance to experience life on a farm in the countryside.

He said like the Young Norfolk Arts Festival it was about inspiring young people and widening their horizons.

War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg. War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg.

“If you can inspire them when they are young, whether with music, business or science or writing, you can change lives,” he said.

War Horse: Only Remembered with Michael Morpurgo is at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, on Sunday, July 9 at 2pm. Tickets £15 adults, £10 concessions. To book, visit www.norwichartscentre.co.uk

For more about the festival, visit www.ynaf.org.uk

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