War Horse a seemingly unstoppable force

A scene from War Horse.
A scene from War Horse. © Paul Kolnik

The seemingly unstoppable War Horse has helped Britain’s National Theatre to a record income for the 2012-13 financial year.

Its success helped the theatre ward off the effects of widely criticised reductions in Arts Council funding.

The paying audience for its productions reached 3.6 million people worldwide.

Attendance averaged 90 percent at South Bank in London, 28 percent of whom were first-time bookers. Attendances for War Horse  at the New London Theatre ran at 97 percent.

War Horse, a stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1983 children’s book of the same name, celebrated its fifth anniversary in London, as well as touring North America and Australia.

The National Theatre generated a record income of £87 million, well over double that of 10 years ago.

A scene from the British season of War Horse.
A scene from the British season of War Horse.

Fine-nine percent of that income came from box office receipts at the National Theatre, on tour, in the West End, and internationally.

Arts Council funding, which was cut in the year by 4.4 percent, following a 7 percent cut last year, represented 20 percent of income.

The reduction in its subsidy over four years will amount to a 23 percent decrease in real terms by 2014-15, the theatre said.

It staged 26 productions and gave 1959 performances in London, where it employed 444 actors and musicians.

Chairman John Makinson, in the theatre’s annual report, said: “The finances of the National Theatre are in sound shape thanks to the success of War Horse, a production that began life in the Studio, and our other commercial transfers.”

The report’s Year in Review continued the theme: “The National’s earnings from War Horse enable us to offset the immediate effects of the reduction in our Arts Council grant and to allow continued innovation and investment in the productions, skills and audiences of the future. Nevertheless, our commercial income stream is not guaranteed.”

The plays tells the story of a horse named Joey and his life on the battlefields of World War 1 in Europe.

Joey was sold into military service by the father of  Albert, the boy who trained him. When Albert was old enough, he set off to find Joey.

The book was also adapted into a blockbuster movie directed by Steven Spielberg.

War Horse in London is now booking until February 2014, with a 10-month, nine-venue tour of Britain and Ireland set to begin this autumn.

The stars of War Horse
The stars of War Horse

The Broadway production completed a 21-month run at the Lincoln Center; the Toronto production also ended in January 2013. The North American touring production continued to play across the US, visiting 21 cities over 42 weeks.

A concurrent production with an all-Australian cast opened at the Melbourne Arts Centre State Theatre in December 2012 for a 15-week season, before visiting Sydney.

A German-language production will open this month in Berlin, followed by another production in Holland.

The second leg of the US tour will commence in September 2013.

War Horse continues to travel with a strong ethos and emphasis on learning and participation, the theatre said.

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