*Troubadour Theatres Limited

The National Theatre's War Horse turns 12

9 October 2019

As the National Theatre's War Horse opens at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre this month, we take a look back on the past 12 years. Read and watch below about the show! 

Turning Twelve

War Horse received its World Premiere at the National Theatre on 9 October 2007, turning 12 this month. During its first run at the Olivier Theatre (finishing on 14 February 2008) the production was seen by 104,000 people over 92 performances

After a second run at the National Theatre between September 2008 and March 2009, War Horse transferred into London’s West End in 2009. The show ran at the New London Theatre until March 2016, for a total of seven years. The production returned to the National Theatre in November 2018, for the first time in ten years, to mark the centenary of Armistice Day.

Show Synopsis

If you have just one minute and want to know what the show is about, watch the War Horse company describe the show in just 60 seconds [spoilers included]:


Michael Morpurgo - the man behind War Horse

Michael Morpurgo (1943) wrote War Horse back in 1982, adapted as a stage play by Nick Stafford for the National Theatre in 2007. 

In a 2019 piece with Forces Network, Morpurgo recounts what inspired him writing War Horse:

It is his childhood memories that have stuck with him the most with his writing, including seeing former soldiers with injuries on the sides of pavements asking for money as he went to buy sweets. He said: 

"Here you were, you'd grown-up, played in bombsites, you realised that war did this to buildings, and suddenly you were learning, as a little boy, actually war does this to flesh." 

It was writing about the effects of war that propelled Morpurgo into the international spotlight with his emotive novel War Horse.

Morpurgo's other works include Why the Whales Came (1985), which was made into a film in 1989 starring Helen Mirren; King of the Cloud Forests (1988), and My Friend Walter (1988), The Wreck of the Zanzibar (1995), The Ghost of Grania O'Malley (1996) and The Sleeping Sword (2002). His recent publications include Half a Man (2014), An Eagle in the Snow (2016), and Flamingo Boy (2018).

Morpurgo was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1999 Birthday Honours for services to young people. In 2006 he was advanced to an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature, and was made a Knight Bachelor in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to literature and charity.

Reaching Audiences Worldwide

During its West End run, there were several international productions of War Horse, including a run in New York (Lincoln Centre 2011 – 2013), a US Tour (2012 – 2014), an Australian Tour (2012), as well as foreign language productions including German (Berlin 2013), Dutch (Amsterdam and Netherlands Tour 2014), Flemish (Antwerp 2015) and Chinese (Chinese tour 2015 -).

The production has also toured the UK and Ireland (2013 - 2015, 2017 – 2019). To this day, War Horse has been seen by nearly eight million people worldwide.    

Critical Acclaim & Awards

National Theatre’s War Horse is not only loved and celebrated by audiences, but also by critics.

★★★★★"An entertainment phenomenon... powerfully moving and imaginative"

Daily Telegraph

★★★★★"an astonishing piece of theatre"

Time Out

★★★★★ "The theatre event of the decade"

Sunday Times

Since opening in 2007, the show has won numerous awards both in the UK and abroad. These accolades include 2 Olivier Awards (2007; for Set Design and for Best Theatre Choreographer) and 5 Tony Awards (2011; Best Play, Best Director of a Play, Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of a Play, Best Sound Design of a Play). 

On the Silver Screen

After enjoying both critical acclaim and firmly setting itself as an audience favourite both nationally and internationally on stage, War Horse was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg in 2012. 

The West End production of War Horse also followed suit on the silver screen in 2014. A live screening was held in February 2014, with over 350,000 people seeing the show from their local cinemas world-wise - breaking previous records of National Theatre Live screenings. 

Puppetry as Part of the Story-telling

War Horse is famous for its stunning puppetry and puppeteering. The puppets in War Horse were created by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, based in Cape Town.

There is a total of 23 puppets in the show, including horses Joey and Topthorn, as well as a goose, two swallows and two crows. It takes eight months to build a complete set of puppets for War Horse, which are handmade by 14 craftsmen and women.


Becoming a Horse

Joey, Topthorn and Joey as a Foal are each operated by three puppeteers - the Head, the Heart and the Hind. The three puppeteers work together to create the character of each horse and to produce the horse noises. 

The finished horse puppets weigh approximately 43 kilos for the body, including the puppeteers' backpacks, and another 7.7 kilos for the head. They are made of cane, leather and tyvec, a material used in book-binding (for the manes and tails). The torso is reinforced with aluminium and able to carry a rider on top.

Puppeteers train for eight weeks before they begin performing. Their training includes basic principles of puppetry before they work specifically on creating the horses.



War Horse returned to the National Theatre on 8 November 2018, for the first time in ten years, playing in the Lyttelton Theatre to mark the centenary of Armistice Day.

On 11 November 2018 a special commemorative performance took place, introduced by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo. The performance included a specially staged moment of remembrance that the company had worked into the show. The audience was made up of paid patrons, a number of veterans and servicemen and women and their families, and Public Acts and community partners across other Learning projects. The day ended with a projection on the NT’s flytower of Rae Smith's poppy sketch, visible to Londoners from across the River Thames. 

In Famous Company

War Horse has been seen, not only by countless people around the world, but also by some notable names. From royalty to Hollywood’s brightest shining stars, to legendary athletes, as an audience member, you will be joining a list of some famous names and faces.

War Horse has been seen by The Queen, Prince Philip, Princess Anne, Prince William and Prince Harry as well as other famous faces including Michael Caine, Rupert Everett, Ethan Hawke, James Earl Jones, Tommy Lee Jones, Keira Knightley, Annie Lennox, Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Meg Ryan, Will Smith, Steven Spielberg, Hilary Swank, Alec Baldwin, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Diana Ross, Diane Keaton, William Shatner, Barbara Walters, Hugh Jackman, Ricki Lake, Kate Winslet, George Lucas, Blythe Danner, Joan Rivers, John McEnroe, Queen Latifah, Martin Sheen, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Billy Crystal, Sting, Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Angela Lansbury, Elaine Stritch, Michael Buble, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Martin Clunes, Liza Minnelli, Nicole Scherzinger, Gary Barlow, Sir Bob Geldof, Tom Daley, Philip Schofield, Tana Ramsay, John Hurt, Natalie Gumede, Sir Steve Redgrave, Bill Bailey, Elizabeth Jagger, Greg Rutherford, Mary Berry, the late Terry Wogan and Ronnie Wood.

Galloping onto New Pastures

War Horse finishes its UK and Ireland tour at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, marking a highly anticipated return to London.

This is also the last chance to see the show in the UK, as it will galloping to foreign lands in late 2019 and 2020 – including France, Australia and Singapore.

Joey in Wembley Park

If you have not booked tickets yet for War Horse don’t miss the chance to see it in a new venue. Best availability on evening performances Mon – Fri. Book your tickets now! 

Sneak a Preview of the Show on Stage