Tag Archives: birmingham hippodrome

Only Remembered: Michael Morpurgo @ Birmingham Hippodrome

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This Remembrance Day weekend, national treasure and former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo graced the Birmingham Hippodrome for ‘Only Remembered’. After a sell-out four-week run of the acclaimed National Theatre production War Horse, Michael joined musicians John Tams and Barry Coope to give an intimate reading of excerpts from the novel.

     If Michael Morpurgo hadn’t become a prolific children’s author, he would have made a remarkable stage actor. Although unassuming, as he walked on stage and smiled coyly at his audience, the moment he began to read I was immediately transported to the world of one horse’s experience in the First World War.

     Set in 1914, Joey, a young farm horse, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. Witnessing the horror of the front-line and the desolation of the trenches, Joey’s courage touches all who meet him.

     I first happened upon War Horse when I was nine years old. A rather precocious child, I was relieved to find that Morpurgo addressed me as an equal rather than subordinate. I began at last to understand the loss and suffering in the war my great-grandparents faced. It was the first novel that made me sit up and pay attention, and rightly so.

     The unequivocal horror of World War 1 claimed not only the lives of millions of men and women but also the lives of over six million horses. Morpurgo’s tale is an adept portrayal of the incomprehensible nature of war, as the reader sees the world from Joey’s perspective. Whilst completely aware of his younger audience, Morpurgo never shies away from highlighting the violence of human cruelty and disdain for both animals and each other. It is this bravery as an author that has no doubt won him respect from children across the world.

Jack Seely on his war horse Warrior

     Morpurgo was a fine and sensitive orator; heralding his days as a teacher. Each new accent, from Devonshire to German, was tackled flawlessly; waves of laughter erupted particularly at his depiction of a Welsh soldier. Funny and heartwarming throughout, his ability to change tone at the drop of a hat left me breathless on several occasions.

     One extract was particularly powerful when read aloud. ‘Mad Friedrich’, the German ammunitions cart driver is talking to Joey and another horse ‘Topthorne’:

‘I tell you, my friends,’ he said one day. ‘I tell you that I am the only sane man in the regiment. It’s the others that are mad, but they don’t know it. They fight a war and they don’t know what for. Isn’t that crazy? How can one man kill another and not really know the reason why he does it, except that the other man wears a different colour uniform and speaks a different language? And it’s me they call mad!’

     Unfortunately, I felt the background music detracted from Morpurgo’s reading. Although John Tams and Barry Coope were clearly talented musicians, the songs and synthesised keyboard seemed an odd choice and I often felt myself willing for it to stop so Morpurgo could continue with his story. The music did suit, however, when the two sang war songs from the period; this added an extra element of reality that grounded us even more in Joey’s world.

     The old adage ‘never meet your idols’ fell completely short. Michael Morpurgo was magnificent and I fell in love with War Horse all over again. It was a pleasure to see such a varied audience responding to his work. Groups of schoolchildren mingled with students and the elderly for an afternoon of reminding ourselves why Remembrance Day is so important.

By Elisha Owen

@ElishaOwen11

Only Remembered: Michael Morpurgo at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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National Theatre’s internationally acclaimed production of War Horse is currently enjoying a completely sold-out run of four weeks at Birmingham Hippodrome, on Friday 8 November author of the original novel Michael Morpurgo will host a special performance titled ‘Only Remembered’ at the theatre on the same weekend as the annual Remembrance Sunday events.

Michael will be reading excerpts from the novel telling the powerful and deeply-moving story of young Albert and his beloved horse Joey accompanied on stage by acclaimed musicians John Tams and Barry Coope who will bring the haunting songs specially composed for the production to life.

The story of War Horse is seen through the eyes of Joey the horse who witnesses the pity of war on both sides of the trenches as he moves from life on a farm in peaceful Devon to the devastation of the Western Front in the First World War.

Speaking about the event, Michael Morpurgo said, “’War Horse the book was inspired by a fireside chat in a Devon pub, over 30 years ago, with a veteran of the First World War. It has since been a National Theatre play, and a symphony concert piece, a radio play, and a Spielberg movie. But this concert version adapted by John Tams (the song-maker of the NT production, now four years into its London run) and sung by John Tams himself and Barry Coope, is the closest of all the adaptations to the original book, in which the voice of the storyteller is the voice of Joey, the horse on a Devon farm, sold away to the army to go to the front in 1914.  And it’s the version in which, as the reader of the story on stage, I am most involved.  Every time I read it, with John and Barry’s glorious music interwoven with the words,  I feel as if I’m telling it for the first time, as if I was there, as the old soldier in the pub was all those years ago.”

Birmingham Hippodrome is proud to host this special event focusing on the events of WW1 and to bring Michael’s novel to life in his own words.

Michael Morpurgo OBE is mostly known for writing children’s fiction and was the third British Children’s Laureate between 2003-2005, he has written over 120 books during his career.

Only Remembered plays at Birmingham Hippodrome Fri 8 November 2013, 2pm. Tickets priced £15-£21, schools £10. Tickets can be purchased by calling 0844 338 5000 or by visiting www.birminghamhippodrome.com.

‘The Voyage’ launches

This summer a huge ship will be sailing into Birmingham as the centrepiece of a weekend of free outdoor performances to open the Cultural Olympiad. The Voyage – an hour long spectacle combining dance, theatre and music – will take place every evening at 10pm between 21-24 June in Victoria Square. The performances will be the culmination of a two year project between Leamington Spa’s highly regarded dance theatre company Motionhouse, Australian theatre company Legs on the Wall, the Birmingham Hippodrome, and Logela Multimedia.

Last Monday, I was invited to the launch event for The Voyage at Birmingham Town Hall. Through previous involvement with Motionhouse I had heard bits and pieces about this summer’s spectacle, but this was the first time I had been able to see how it is all going to look. The verdict? Very impressive and very ambitious! Five minutes into the thirty minute preview, given mainly by Kevin Finnan, the artistic director, I realised I was going to need to tweet and hash tag the flood of information he was expounding, and my opinions on it all. Here’s a brief synopsis from those tweets of what The Voyage is, what may make it a success, and what problems it might face:

The story is influenced by the history of sea voyages from the 1930s to the 1960s in an echo of those making their way to London this summer for the Olympics. Dancers, aerialists and assorted other performers will open the show by making their way through the crowd under a sea of tickertape and as they walk the gang plank onto the passenger liner they will accompanied by the huge amateur choir singing the ‘Song of Departure’. The ship will then ‘sail’ away on an ocean of tears from the numerous weeping eyes projected onto the hull and deck. The voyage can now take place, but it is punctuated by a violent storm and the ‘Dance of the Lost’ as passengers search for those washed overboard. Their rescue will take place within the crowd, and this interaction with the public and the immersive nature of the event is what underpins the whole ethos of The Voyage. The performance will finish with a triumphant and glorious arrival as the ship docks back into the square, the conclusion of an event involving not only professional dancers but also 140 community performers from the area.

Finnan gave the attendants a vivid idea of what The Voyage will look like, while leaving plenty of tantalising details to intrigue and ensure a large turn out on the opening night. The inspiration and ideas behind the performance, of immersive journeys and the “perusal of ideas” as Finnan put it, are immediately tangible to a public audience who may not have encountered dance and performance on this scale or level of ability before. The producers are aiming for an audience of 5000-6000 per night, which looks ambitious, especially as each ‘voyage’ doesn’t start until 10pm and takes place within the health and safety nightmare of the uneven square. The timing has obvious benefits and drawbacks: the night sky will make the whole show more dramatic, and a 10pm start allows those seeking evening entertainment in the city a cultural kick off before bars/clubs/recitals etc. However, the late start will also prevent young children from attending, and this is a major blow for families keen on taking in such an impressive (and free) event. All in all though, The Voyage is going to be an extraordinary way to spend a summer evening, and well worth students sticking around for (or making their own voyage back to the city). It’s certainly one I’m not going to be missing.

For regular updates follow @thevoyage2012 on Twitter.

Words by Andy Newnham