One of the occasional frustrations of being an evangelist for the Lincoln Center Theater production of War Horse is trying to provide a comprehensive explanation of how Michael Morpurgo's original novel took shape on stage at London's National Theatre. The LCT website provides many valuable small snapshots of the process but not a full-scale portrait.
Luckily, David Bickerstaff and Phil Grabsky have done the big job for us. They wrote, filmed, and directed "Making War Horse," a 48-minute documentary that has for some time been on sale in the LCT lobby and here, but that this Wednesday, August 10, at 8 pm and again on August 12 at 2:30 am will be broadcast by WNET, the PBS affiliate in New York. (There may be additional airings depending on viewer response; no word yet whether the film will air on other PBS stations.)
WNET will air the documentary as part of its current pledge drive. I am a PBS addict, but I have to confess that I watch and tape the network less often during these drives: to boost pledges, the powers-that-be tend to rerun popular programs that I've already seen; in addition, I'm allergic to many of the pledge-drive staples: baby-boomer performances from the 1950s and 1960s.
But this month I must stifle my quibbles because the channel is spreading the story about War Horse. And what a story it is! Author Morpugo recounts his inspiration for the novel. National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner explains how the project came to him, and the show's co-directors, Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott, take us through the production's workshop process. Handspring Puppet Company heads Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones dissect the development of the puppetry. Set designer Rae Smith talks about some of the early-20th-century artistic movements upon which she drew for her contribution. Lighting designer Paule Constable analyzes the way lighting conveys mood.
Many others instrumental in the success of "War Horse" are also heard from, but no one dominates the discussion. As Morpugo says at the end of "Making War Horse," "Everyone behind the scenes is as important as everyone else. And everyone knows that."
Even though the documentary concentrates on the show's development in the U.K., during pledge month WNET will also be airing new interviews with Seth Numrich, the actor who plays Albert in New York, and with Kohler and Jones. The station will also broadcast LCT's War Horse commercial, production footage, and a selection of production photos. All this attention will be accompanied by a ticket giveaway for pledge-drive participants. Hooray!
Visit Thirteen.org for more information.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.
"Even though the documentary concentrates on the show's development in the U.K." It's *solely* about the UK production, nary a whiff of the US one, because it was made in 2009 (first broadcast on UK tv on November 7, 2009), long, long before the Lincoln Center production was underway. So there's no reason why the documentary would reference the NY production. I can't remember where I saw it (YouTube, perhaps?) but I saw a short documentary about the NY production where the UK actors said how jealous they were because the NY one had better puppets and the script had been tweaked to make it tighter. So the US gets the new improved version in one way. But in another way it definitely doesn't. Can you explain why the US audiences weren't treated to the foreign language (French and German) segments that the UK ones were? Why was this decision taken? The whole point about that clever use of unintelligible-to-most foreign language dialogue was that we were forced to become like Joey, unable to judge the meaning of what was being said, and only able to judge by actions and behavior.
Brendan Lemon responds: "Yes, the Lincoln Center Theater version of "War Horse" incorporates changes from the initial production in London, including the elimination of most non-English-language dialogue. I may deal with this issue in a future blog posting."