The Birmingham Hippodrome Celebrates a Record Year

BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME - Local schoolchildren enjoying schools matinee performance of pantomime (Parental approval granted)

With over 625,000 tickets sold, the Birmingham Hippodrome has now announced 2013-14 as a record-breaking financial year. The theatre has for been recognised for some time as the country’s most popular single auditorium, averaging around 500,000 visits per year. Representing about 85% of capacity, this year’s increase is thanks in part to a slew of major shows like The Lion King, War Horse and Phantom of the Opera.

The news follows many other important steps forward for the theatre over the last few months, including its successful energy use reductions, its nomination as one of the Sunday Times’s “Top 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For”, and its certification in OHSAS 18001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management), with the Hippodrome believed to be the first UK theatre to achieve the last of these.

stuart-griffithsSaid the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths:

“It’s not very often that these programming moments come together so perfectly, but with more than a little help from our producer partners Cameron Mackintosh, Disney, the National Theatre and Pantomime producers Qdos, alongside others, it looks like we’ve shattered all previous known records.  It’s gratifying too that we’ve seen such a huge rise in first-time bookers with over 48% new to the Hippodrome in the last 12 months.

“Dance received a boost with our resident partners Birmingham Royal Ballet presenting its most successful Nutcracker  at Christmas; and Mathew Bourne’s sell out Swan Lake.   We ended the financial year this spring with two other huge successes, the classics Fiddler on the Roof and Singin’ in the Rain.”

In addition to a surge in ticket sales, the theatre’s Hippodrome Plus outreach scheme has been attracting a lot of attention, with the number of people involved in its creative learning projects having doubled to over 16,000. Big outdoor events like Summer in Southside, Illuminate and the Four Squares Weekender have been key to this growth. Elsewhere, fundraising has also increased dramatically, with generous donations from members of the public, as well as an expansion of the patron scheme and a rise in corporate membership of over 30%.

Neil Pugh - Building FrontEncouraged by this success, the Hippodrome team are now investing in lots of exciting new projects for the upcoming year. Said John Crabtree, Chair of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust,

“In keeping with the successful formula created in recent years, the success of the last financial year is already being used to invest in the programme and towards further developing a diverse audience.  The month-long International Dance Festival Birmingham, co-produced with DanceXchange, starts at the end of April, South Africa’s Cape Town Opera return in July with their production of Show Boat whilst St. Petersburg’s acclaimed Mariinsky Opera bring Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Birmingham in November.”

Theatre exterior photo by Neil Pugh.

“Delivered From Madness” – The BSA’s Equus at the Patrick Centre

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Sliding in an instant from in-depth philosophical musing one moment to total nudity the next, Equus is far from an easy choice for training, undergraduate actors, making the BSA’s recent production at the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre all the more impressive.

cmsproxyimageWith professional-standard acting ability all round, the cast tackled the play’s difficult and disturbing themes with ease, gauging the tone just right and providing their characters with real psychological depth. From the beginning, the lead actors were thoroughly compelling: Harry Russell maintained a commanding presence as Dysart throughout, while Jack Whitehurst effortlessly conveyed the complex and turbulent inner life of the troubled Alan Strang.

The supporting cast, too, were excellent, with Gareth Adams and Vivian Glaskin convincingly downtrodden and desperate as Alan’s pitiable parents. Grace Bussey, meanwhile, underwent a complete transformation between her two roles as Jill Mason and the Nurse. Had the play allowed for it, it would have been great to see more from this actress, but in spite of her characters’ limitations, her talent nevertheless shone through. As Nugget and the Horseman on the beach, Mikael Froman’s energy was utterly tireless, and with the help of some beautifully made horse-head props, reminiscent of the skeleton-like structures used in The National Theatre’s War Horse, the rest of the cast joined him to create an amazingly effective herd of horses, capturing the creatures’ subtle movements and raw animal pain.

Though minimal, the set was well designed, making the best possible use of the space available which became, at various points, hospital, home, stable, beach, cinema and bus stop. Even when not performing, the full cast generally remained on stage, something which could easily have become distracting had it not been so well done.

Overall, the production demonstrated a great deal of promise, ability and professionalism from its young actors, who, based on this, should be proud of their achievements and confident about their future careers.

Only Remembered – A War Horse Concert with Readings by Michael Morpurgo

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As part of the weekend’s World War I remembrance ceremonies, a War Horse concert, featuring music from the play and readings from Michael Morpurgo’s original novel, took place on Friday at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Timed to fall just before Remembrance Sunday, the striking contrast between Only Remembered and the rather grander, televised war memorials to which we have grown accustomed could not have been more striking. With just three people on stage – musicians John Tams and Barry Coope, as well as Michael Morpurgo himself – the concert had a close and intimate feel, magnifying its emotive power and resonance with each person present. Stripped of the pomp and glory that often obscures bigger ceremonies, it strove instead to paint a more honest and brutal picture of the horror and the pity of war.

Despite having seen the War Horse play very recently, I found John Tams’ music seemed even richer and more beautiful in this context, which allowed listeners to focus on each of the songs more directly. More direct, too, was Michael Morpurgo’s storytelling, which held people’s attention without any kind of visual aid. It was amazing to see whole groups of schoolchildren hanging on his words, more enthralled than adult members of the audience. Their attention never flagged, either, despite the fact that the concert ran through the full story without an interval.

One thing that struck me as I watched the three men on stage was that Michael Morpurgo, unlike the musicians, had chosen not to wear a poppy. I found this particularly interesting after hearing him speak on Radio 4’s Moral Maze last week, where guests debated the poppy, its significance and possible overuse. During the programme, Michael Morpurgo expressed concerns that,

“if we’re not very careful….we focus too much on the poppy and not on the stories of what happened, the history of what happened. That seems to me to be much more important than what poppy you wear or whether you wear a poppy.”

Only Remembered is amongst the most moving and thought-provoking war memorials I have seen or heard, encapsulating the futility of fighting and highlighting the loss on all sides. It served to remind its audience of what is now, sadly, too often forgotten, lost amongst patriotism, perceived heroism and endlessly repeating arguments for contemporary wars: that the true purpose of remembrance  should be to ensure that such terrible things never happen again.

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The National Theatre’s War Horse – An Interview with John Leader at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Leader, JohnIn addition to our interview with War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, puppeteer John Leader was also kind enough to speak to us about his experience as the heart and lungs of Joey in War Horse performances at the Birmingham Hippodrome. What he said gave a fascinating insight into why the puppet horses have been so successful.

TF: How do you make the horse look so life-like?

JL: A lot of training I think is definitely a good place to start. I think it helps to be working together as three people – as a mini ensemble inside a horse. Mostly we are just listening because we don’t speak inside the horse, so I think learning a physical vocabulary shared between three of us so that we can listen and breathe together, that all goes into how we make it work.

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TF: So you respond to whatever is happening rather than having scripted sound?

JL: Yeah, I think that the great thing about what we’re taught here is how we’re taught to always be a horse. It sounds very weird to just ‘be the horse’, and there’s obviously set choreography because you have to have that, for safety reasons. You can’t have a big, huge horse just galloping wherever he wants to gallop, but then a lot of the time we do just get to be the horse. Like if someone drops a bucket on stage, we get to react to it. I think that’s the amazing side: no two shows are the same. Even though you’ve already watched it, when you watch this show tonight it will be completely different.

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HK: How long did it take you to get used to it all?

JL: Get used to it? I think we’re still getting used to it. [laughs] No, I mean we’re used to it now but we do two weeks rehearsal, just with puppeteers when we first start, and then we do another six weeks with the rest of the cast, so it’s eight weeks in rehearsals before we then take it on stage. I think a good eight weeks was a nice base to start from, but even when we open we don’t know everything about it – we get to learn while being on the job.

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TF: One of the things I find impressive is that even when you’re not moving around on stage, tiny movements are still always bringing the horse to life. How to do you get in all the minute details like the twitch of an ear or the flick of a tail?

So, what happens is all three of us each have an emotional indicator cord and they’re things you can use to pick up on things. So in the head, you have the ears, so whoever is controlling the ears so the ears can listen to what is going on at any given time. In the heart, I get to do the breathing, so if he’s angry, for example, I can convey a lot of that through breathing. In the back they have the tail which they can swish. I control the front legs, the head controls the head and the back controls the back two legs and we also have our emotional indicators, so when you bring all those things together I think that’s when you look at it and you really see a horse.

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HK: Did you have to watch real horses to learn about how they behave?

JL: Yes, we went to the National Horse Trust and we got to watch horses and I think I was never really a huge fan of horses but I can safely say that after having done this I want a horse! I don’t know how well it would go down having a horse in Birmingham, just in my back garden running around – I don’t think that would be too acceptable. But I think when I finish this I’d love to own a horse. I think I’ve fallen in love with them, they’ve converted me!

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The National Theatre’s War Horse: An Interview With Michael Morpurgo at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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Before being treated to a first night performance of War Horse at the Birmingham Hippodrome, fellow First Night Blogger Tal Fox and I were lucky enough to have the chance to interview author of the original War Horse novel, Michael Morpurgo. We asked him for his thoughts on the National Theatre‘s adaptation of his work, and how he thought it compared to Spielberg’s film version.

HK: What was your initial reaction when you were told people were looking to adapt your book for the stage?

MM: Disbelief really, disbelief for two reasons. First of all, it was the National Theatre on the phone and you don’t get calls from the National Theatre very often. I knew they’d done one or two iconic productions for wider family audiences. They’d done Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and they’d done Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin and they’d done these wonderful shows for the whole family for two seasons over four years. They were looking for another show to do and they’d chosen War Horse. So I said,

‘Why? Because no one’s read the book much.’

They said, ‘Well, we’ve been looking for a story with an animal hero at its heart, because we want to do it with puppets.’
It was at that moment that my heart sank. That’s why I say I felt disbelief because I didn’t really believe a show could be made of this story about the First World War with puppets: I couldn’t quite see how anyone could take that seriously. I was thinking of a pantomime horse, which I know is silly but that’s what I was thinking.

They said, ‘No, you must come meet these guys, Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa, and see their work.’

So I went and I saw this life-size giraffe walking across the studio floor with three puppeteers inside and I simply couldn’t believe it. You could see the puppeteers right through it. It was like a skeleton thing walking along, yet you believed totally that there was life in this creature. It was unbelievably moving, I felt tears coming to my eyes. I don’t even feel like that when I see a real giraffe and yet this manifestation of a giraffe, this giraffe spirit, was so touching that I thought that maybe if they could do it with a giraffe, they could do it with a horse too. So my disbelief turned into amazement.
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HK: How involved were you in the process while the show was being put together?

MM: Have you seen the play yet?

HK: I haven’t.

TF: I have.

MM: Did you like it?

TF: Loved it!

MM: Then I had everything to do with it!

We laugh.

MM: All my own work. If you had said the opposite…

I think the truth is that I had very little to do with it. They were really kind, but I’m not a dramatist and they knew this: I am a story-maker. They used the story and they were kind enough to send me the scripts, to bring me along to rehearsals and I’d say what I thought and sometimes they paid attention and sometimes they didn’t. I’ve done enough work now with stage companies, theatre companies and screen people to know that that’s what happens. They take a story and whether you like it or not, once they’ve taken it, once you’ve actually given it to them – once you’ve been paid to give it to them – they are entitled to do with it what they like. The risk you take when you hand your story over is that they will mess it up, and to avoid that it seems to me that you must do your research. So you go to see what the director does, what the writer does and then you make up your mind if they can do it. Don’t expect it to be a simple representation of your story, though, because it won’t be like that. With a genius thing like this, they’ve shone a completely new light on the story and taken it to dimensions I never could have even conceived. When they don’t do it and it turns out to be the opposite, it’s very disappointing. You make mistakes, but in this particular case I got lucky. The right people, Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott, the two directors, who are both of them unbelievably extraordinary theatrical geniuses, came together. How rare is that? Two directors who come together and share their genius. They created the play. They got Rae Smith to do the design, they got John Tams and Adrian Sutton to do the music and before I knew it, there were all these brilliant people – the best in British theatre – coming together to make this show.

When I first saw it I was hugely disappointed because it was so complicated to coordinate and make the whole thing because nothing has ever been done like it. It juddered and there were moments when it wasn’t working and it was too long, my thought was, ‘This is going to last a week if you’re lucky’. I was very disappointed but then the National Theatre and those two wonderful directors, they got together and they shook it into shape in a week and then on press night I came and saw it again. It was a completely extraordinary show and I turned around and saw all these fancy, hugely prestigious people from theatre and literature in floods of tears. It was just utterly extraordinary! It cuts through intellect to the heart and that’s what they’ve achieved.

I’ve seen it maybe forty or fifty times now, I’ve lost count. I’ve seen it in Australia and I’ve seen it in America and Canada and I’m going to see it in Berlin tomorrow. That’s the most amazing thing – this has never happened before. They haven’t shown a play in Germany about the First World War since it happened because it is something so difficult for them to engage with, and the National Theatre have never done this before either, so there are a lot of firsts happening and it’s very daring, and that’s what’s so wonderful about this. It’s a risk to put puppets on stage in front of people and ask them to take it seriously: for them to do that, it’s got to be so good. And then to take it to Berlin where the memories echo onto the Second World War, a consequence of the First World War, and it is still massively in their conciousness, where they’ll be playing it in a theatre where the Kaiser sat, and later where Hitler sat….Hitler apparently sat in the balcony which looks down on the stage where Joey trots out as this symbol of peace, reconciliation and suffering, one hundred years later. How wonderful is that?
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HK: How did seeing the film for the first time compare to seeing the play?

MM: It was different. The story has taken many shapes. It has been a radio play, it was already a play and we were already doing concerts. Suddenly it was a film and the difference really is the medium. A film tells you just about everything, it leaves you no room for manouvering in terms of your leave of imagination. I’ve been used to being left room for this. I think with the puppets, for instance, it is so much up to the audience to invest in them. They understand the situation and that’s why kids can sit here and watch a horse die because there is no blood, no flesh, you are always imagining it. It’s the same thing when it’s on the page, it is left to the reader. It’s why the thing works so wonderfully well. A book is a useless thing without a reader. That’s when the magic happens: where the story meets the reader and where the author meets the reader. In the play again it needs the meeting of imagination to work, even though it’s stimulating imagination in a different way. With the film it’s on a plate, it’s the whole thing: here’s how it was in Devon in 1914, here’s what the First World War looked like, here is what the horse looked like. Parts of it were wonderful. I think the war scenes were extraordinary, especially the charge across no man’s land. It was less successful where the director understood the story less well. The life of a working farm in 1914 Devon was portrayed in a way that was idealistic. I actually live in the place so I know that life was hard, brutish and muddy. They suffered a lot from damp houses and cold and that didn’t come across in the film. It all looked too tidy and the same thing happened when it came to the French countryside. So there were moments when I thought that could have been a great deal better. I am more critical of the film than I am of the play.

I do have criticisms of the play, too, which I won’t go into now. I even have criticisms of the book. If you’ve read the book you’ll know that is an attempt to look at the universal suffering from all sides. That’s the whole point of using the horse to tell the story. You see it from the British side, the French side and the German side. The British side, I think, is done quite well because I live in the place where the horse comes from and I’m soaked in its whole atmosphere and the history. The French side is quite good because I speak French, it is my second country. I go there, I know the place and I know how France was affected by the First World War. I think when I read my book, the German side is not so well written, partly because I’m more distant from the experience and the culture and the language, from what it is to be German and how it was for them. If I have a major criticism of the book it’s that the German character isn’t as strong as the French or British characters.

The play doesn’t do the whole thing. If you’ve read the book you’ll know that it starts and ends with a sale, it’s one of the things I treasure about the book. Well they don’t do that in the play because they thought, rightly, that dramatically it would be too obvious at the end and almost a repeat work on stage. They were right. I don’t complain about it but when I sit here sometimes I think it would have been nice to have that.
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TF: Do you prefer a play when it is more simplistic and spends more time on the story?

MM: I like the intimacy of smaller, less expensive plays. This is glorious and wonderful and I get to go to wonderful places and there’s a terrific buzz about it all and all that’s lovely but the buzz can sometimes interfere with the truth behind the drama. The great danger of a production like this (though it doesn’t happen in this particular production) is that the stage effects can be so mesmerisingly wonderful that you forget what the play is about. There are plenty of plays on the West End where the stage effects are just amazing and the story gets lost. The quality of the story and the music cannot be sustained if all you’re doing is ‘ahhing’ and wondering at how amazing it all is. It’s not what theatre should be. It’s supposed to be as honest as possible, as honest as a book.
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Photographs from the day are by Tal Fox. To hear an audio version of the interview, check out Tal’s blog here.

The Power of Absence – The National Theatre’s War Horse On Tour

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Despite the huge buzz that has now held out for over six years and multiple awards, I’ll admit that before I had seen The National Theatre’s War Horse with my own eyes, I still had my reservations. For starters, I shared misgivings with the story’s original writer, Michael Morpurgo, about the puppetry: could it be possible to use life-size puppets and still avoid the spectacle taking over from the story? Secondly, I’d seen the film – which was fine, but didn’t quite live up to expectations: hardly surprising, I suppose, with a hype as resilient and indefatigable as the story’s equine protagonist.

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What was most striking and most surprising about the play, however, is that its puppet horses actually felt more real to me than did the real live horses in the film. As Morpurgo explained in an interview a fellow first night blogger and I conducted prior to the performance:

I didn’t really believe a show could be made of this story about the First World War with puppets at the heart; I couldn’t quite see how anyone could take that seriously. I was imagining a pantomime horse, which I know is silly, but that’s what I was thinking. So they said, “No, you must come and meet these guys Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa – and see their work. So I went and I saw this lifesize giraffe walking across the studio floor with three puppeteers and I simply couldn’t believe it!…You believed totally that there was life in this creature. It was unbelievably moving, I felt tears coming to my eyes. I don’t actually feel tears coming to my eyes when I see a real giraffe and yet this manifestation of a giraffe, this giraffe spirit, was so touching that I thought that maybe if they could do it with a giraffe, they could do it with a horse.’

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The puppets are honestly every bit as magnificent as that makes them sound. The attention to detail is breathtaking: it’s the little flicks of the ears and tails, the variety of their noises, their breathing and the way the heads move as the eat and drink that are most impressive. I’m told that at times on their many travels (to Canada, America, Australia, Ireland and soon Berlin, as well as the UK) they have even been mistaken for real horses!

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And yet it wasn’t just the raved-about, life-like magic of the puppetry that made this show. One of my main problems when watching the War Horse film was that I struggled with the concept of the horse as an identification figure in the midst of so much human suffering. Many Brits, with their peculiar sentimentality about animals, would probably call me callous, but the fact remains that I’m not really an “animal person” in that way, and my reaction to the whole thing was rather similar to Rose Narracott’s amazement at her son’s obsession with his horse in the play: “Half the men in the village are dead!” she exclaims. Of course, the very fact that the play (and not the film) included such a line as this tells you something – I think – about their relative priorities. In a way that I hadn’t before, I really understood Joey’s purpose as being to give a balanced, honest perspective on the war and its futility. Max Hastings writes pityingly in the programme of the “plight of the horses conscripted to suffer in conflicts which they, unlike their riders, lack any means of understanding”, but I feel that here he’s missed something crucial. The sad truth is that the many of the soldiers who fought in World War I probably had little more comprehension of what was really happening and why than did their dumb mounts. There were, after all, horrifying numbers of teenagers fighting in both world wars who, much like Albert Narracott searching desperately for his lost pet, were barely more than children themselves. Michael Morpurgo has (quite rightly) sugared the pill with an extremely unlikely happy ending for Albert and Joey: the terrible reality faced by real young soldiers was perhaps a rather less suitable subject for a children’s book.

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Albert’s innocence and naivety in this play is almost agonising. Lee Armstrong may well be older than Jeremy Irvine was in the film, but on stage, one always readily accepts a lot more. On screen, Irvine cuts an imposing figure: he simply looks and carries himself too much like a man – a healthy, chiseled, Hollywood-style man at that. Meanwhile Armstrong perfectly captures Albert’s tragic, youthful innocence and fear. Where in the film, Albert seems simply to have joined up as a matter of course, when the time was right, along with other young men in his village, in the play, he childishly, stupidly runs away from home, with no clear idea of what he is letting himself in for. Despite his mother’s dwelling on the seemingly disproportionate number of reported deaths of men from their village, the danger never really registers with Albert, because he isn’t listening, because he is a silly teenage boy, a lot sulkier and a lot more fragile than Spielberg’s glossier version.

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Albert’s is just one small part of the overwhelming tragedy of the play which stands out despite its superficially cheery ending. The story of the deserting German Hauptmann who loses his chance at happiness touches us more nearly than that of Emilie and her kindly, old grandfather in the film: the drawn-out uncertainty about their fate is something worse than any definite death, which might permit us to grieve and move on – we have only to look at the national preoccupation with the story of Madeleine McCann for corroboration of this. Through Friedrich and his fellow soldiers, the German “side” is made infinitely more complex and interesting, and this political complexity is borne out throughout the film. The play opens with an argument between two brothers – two heads of households – which escalates into something serious and dangerous for their whole families: in their ongoing fraternal feud, it’s not too hard to see a reflection of the never-ending disputes between proud governments and their impact upon the nations and peoples in their charge. Much as we care about Albert and Joey, they do not own this realisation of the tale in the same way as they do in the film. The snapshots and multiple perspectives we are given leave us with a distinct impression of something much bigger than they are, something so huge and terrible that it cannot really be squashed into a single two-and-three-quarter-hour play (though somehow, miraculously, it is).

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The music and set design do much to pick up on this idea. The play is set against a soaring, filmic score, with panoramic vistas appearing on the white screen hanging up at the back of the stage. Yet the disjunction between this and the necessary minimalism on the stage itself is always apparent: thus conscious of its limitations, it is more able than a film to suggest a wider world outside of itself, to hint at something greater than it is. As Michael Morpurgo said,

A film tells you just about everything, it leaves you no room for manoeuvring….I think with the puppets it is so much up to the audience to invest in those puppets….It’s the same thing when it’s on the page, it is left to the reader. It is why the thing works so wonderfully well. A book is useless without a reader –  that’s where the magic happens. It’s when the story meets the reader, the author meets the reader. In the play again it needs the meeting of imagination to work….With the film it’s on a plate: here is what Devon looked like in 1914, here is what the war was like, here is what the horse looked like. Parts of it were wonderful, the war scenes were extraordinary. It was less successful where the director understood the story less well.”

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Choral interludes remind us repeatedly of all the other people in the background, the people whose stories we are not, directly at least, being told. The sketchy design of the moving images, too, seems almost incomplete – what they create is less a film than a storyboard. Like the semi-transparent, almost skeletal puppet horses, they give us half the picture, at once seeming real and not real. Even the white strip across which the images race is styled to look like a part of something else, a strip torn from a sketchbook that could perhaps tell us many more stories, should we care to read or hear them.

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There are even more layers in this play that I failed to notice as I watched and learned afterwards from the programme, like the mini-art history lesson that Robert Butler notes is offered by Rae Smith’s drawings, gradually morphing as they do from idyllic, rural, realist landscapes into more abstract and troubling cubist and vorticist designs, the war seeming to shatter everything normal, rational and known into dark, obscure and often frightening fragments.

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Despite its relative simplicity in terms of set, cost and design, War Horse the play is easily as beautiful, if not more so, than it’s movie counterpart, yet its beauty is of a bleaker, more sombre kind, that seems to encapsulate and prefigure tragedy right from the start. The horses’ skeleton-frames suggest their fragility and inevitable demise. There’s an underlying sadness to the music even at its most rousing and triumphant, because we hear it with hindsight. Even the love and empathy between characters can be terrible in the pain it causes: the guilt and shame of Friedrich and Ted Narracott, the loneliness and anxiety of Rose Narracott, the fear and anger of little Emilie, all wonderfully portrayed by the show’s excellent cast. War Horse is magnificent, and I’m just sad I haven’t read the book yet.

War Horse is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 9th November. All shows are now fully booked, but you can call 0844 338 5000 for returns, or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website for more information. Watch this space for full interviews with Michael Morpurgo and puppeteer John Leader, and check out First Night Blogger Tal Fox’s thoughts on the show here.

Illuminate and War Horse Sleepover: A Weekend of Special Events at the Hippodrome

As the autumn nights grow longer and the first wintry chills begin to creep into the air, the Birmingham Hippodrome will be bringing a little light into the darkness with a full weekend of special night-time events.

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From 25th-27th October, free, outdoor light spectacular Illuminate will be taking place across Birmingham’s Southside area. Amongst various roaming light performances, the festival will feature a stunning, 360 degree film igloo in which audiences can immerse themselves, awe-inspiring fire dance performances and a series of live, giant projections of Southside faces onto local buildings.

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lightsIn addition, Hurst Street’s Gallon Car Park will also be hosting the Lanterns of Terracotta Warriors exhibition, a breathtaking art installation initially created for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The installation features over 90 larger than life-size figurines inspired by China’s Terracotta Army.

Illuminate will close with a brand new performance, commissioned by the Birmingham Hippodrome in association with DanceXchange. Echoalia combines movement and projections, and was created through an innovative collaboration between choreographer Sonia Sabri and new media artist Andy McKeown.

Events will be taking place from 6pm-10pm on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 October and 6pm-8pm on Sunday 27 October and are all completely free. As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the first 100 visitors to the Hippodrome Square or LeTruc will receive an Illoom glowing balloon to enable them to join in with a light procession in Hurst Street. For more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

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From 7pm on Friday 25th October, families are also invited to participate in a unique, War Horse-themed sleepover that will see the theatre’s Patrick Centre transformed into World War I style trenches. Throughout the evening, guests can take part in a series of activities including art and crafts, games, singing and storytelling, as well as an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour which will offer an exciting insight into the National Theatre‘s award-winning production.

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Said Liz Leck, the Hippodrome’s Creative Learning & Development Manager,

“We will be transporting families back 100 years to a time free of technology in a transformed Patrick Centre; families will find themselves in a ‘far-off field’ in France and make camp in ‘trenches’ overnight.”

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National Army Museum representatives will also be attending to share a range of genuine and replica artefacts from the museum’s collection. At the end of the evening, a collaborative family performance will be created from scratch: act, sing or bring along a musical instrument to join in. For the less theatrically-inclined, the “Hippodrome Herald” will be seeking out budding war correspondents and cartoonists prepared to put their journalistic skills to the test.

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Tickets for the sleepover are priced at £20 for children and £30 for adults, and can be booked by calling 0844 338 5000. Calls cost 5p per minute. A minimum of 1 adult per 3 children is required for each group.

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The Family Sleepover is part of a nationwide Family Arts Festival offering events and activities across the city. Click here for more information on the festival.