Get along to South Hill Park for War Horse sequel Farm BoyBy Ralph Webb
October 25, 2012
It is rare that sequels live up to their predecessors, but Michael Morpurgo’s Farm Boy is an exception.
And that’s a big statement, considering the story that came first was War Horse.
The tale of Albert and his war horse Joey has warmed the hearts of families across the world with the original story published in 1982 and a Hollywood film version made by Steven Spielberg last year.
Before the story was given the blockbuster treatment, it was told on stage by Nick Stafford and the Handspring Puppet Company, who created an enchanting show with full-scale, breathing, galloping horses, which is still showing at the National Theatre.
Now the sequel Farm Boy has been adapted for the stage, with New Perspectives Theatre Company and Scamp Theatre teaming up to create an enchanting family show.
“It is the sequel but at the same time it’s a very different sort of production,” says Gareth Bennett-Ryan, who plays the grandson.
“It’s set around me working on this tractor and Grandpa ends up telling the story about Joey and the war, and about how we got the tractor.
“There was a big ploughing competition so we talk about that too,” he says.
On stage, the green, ageing tractor acts as a focal point for the story and makes up most of the set.
“There’s the tractor, a tool box, a chair and an oily cushion and we do everything with those items,” says Gareth.
“The tractor is a bit like the third character – it’s been in the family as long as any of us have.
“There’s a lot of love for the tractor and that’s what bonds them. It’s family history and wanting to share that with other people.”
In Farm Boy, Grandpa, who is Albert’s son, recounts the story of War Horse to his grandson,but Gareth says some details change in the sequel.
“I don’t know why he did this but [Michael Morpurgo] changed a few things like the way Albert found Joey in the war,” he says.
“The only thing I can think of is when families pass these stories down they get embellished and changed and that may be what he was trying to get across.”
For Gareth, being part of a production based on Michael’s work has been an exciting experience, but he says his Nana was most thrilled when she found out he would be part of the production.
“My Nana knew Michael Morpurgo’s mum,” he explains. “She actually bit her finger when she was a kid and as a sort of reverse psychology punishment his mum bought her a tricycle.
“So my Nana is very pleased I’m in the show.”
Gareth has also enjoyed working with and learning from John Walters, who plays Grandpa and whose film credits include Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Ever After.
It will be the fourth time John has reprised the role of Grandpa as he first performed the role in 2009.
“It was a bit daunting knowing John has done the show many times before and he’s worked with two different actors for it,” says Gareth.
“Acting is all about reacting, so if you stand someone in front of you who is pretty much the character then it makes it easier.”
The duo have been building their own grandfather/grandson bond during the production, which Gareth says is the foundation of the story.
“I think the bond between Joey and Albert is similar to the bond between Grandpa and the grandson in the strength of it,” he says.
“Farm Boy is not as dramatic as War Horse but it’s very touching and very genuine.”