Mercury’s Farm Boy discovers War Horse back in the fields

Gary Mackay, Danny Childs in Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for the stage by Daniel Buckro

Gary Mackay, Danny Childs in Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for the stage by Daniel Buckroyd. Photo Robert Day - Credit: Archant

Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse was one of British theatre’s great defining moments in recent years. Based on a best-selling novel, it was an emotional and uplifting experience which, through the interaction of actors and life-size puppets, allowed audiences to see the battlefields of the First World War through the eyes of Joey the farm horse.

Danny Childs in Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for the stage by Daniel Buckroyd. Photo Rob

Danny Childs in Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for the stage by Daniel Buckroyd. Photo Robert Day - Credit: Archant

Any sequel to this is bound to raise expectations but Michael Morpurgo’s touching Farm Boy cleverly continues the story of Joey and Albert but is told in a different way, allowing the story to live in its own world without making too many comparisons.

Farm Boy has been adapted for the stage by Daniel Buckroyd, artistic director of the Colchester Mercury, who has previously adapted Morpurgo’s The Butterfly Lion.

The play is directed by Chris Hallam who says that staging a play which is seen as a sequel to something as successful as War Horse has to be daunting but he’s letting the script do the hard work.

“You can’t worry about what people are thinking when they come to a play. You just have to tell the story as best you can. We’ve got a great story to tell, thanks to Michael, Daniel has given us a brilliant script and I’m just bringing to life what’s on the page.

Danny Childs in Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for the stage by Daniel Buckroyd. Photo Rob

Danny Childs in Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for the stage by Daniel Buckroyd. Photo Robert Day - Credit: Archant

“My approach has always been to make things as simple as possible. Let the play and the actors tell the story. We are doing a tour of schools before the performances at The Mercury and the kids have been spellbound.

“We have an old Fordson tractor, which features heavily in the show, and a few props and that’s it. But, because the story and the performances are so good the children are hooked. There are a few moments in the show where we wondered whether the kids would understand but we needn’t have worried because children take things in their stride.”

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He said that the show gains from the input of musician/ composer Ru Hamilton who has come up with a unique musical landscape for the show which has been shaped in rehearsal. “He was amazing. Like everyone who sees the show, he was completely charmed by what he saw. He kept coming up with new ideas. One day he said to me: ‘what this scene needs is a harp.’

“I wasn’t keen, thinking about the practicalities of touring with a giant harp, but he assured me, it would only be a small one. He went out and got himself a harp and he was right.

“The piece he came up with fitted the scene brilliantly – so music plays a big part in the performance.”

Chris says that whereas War Horse is told in a linear fashion through the eyes of the horse, Farm Boy is set in the present but is told in flashback as the young grandson, played by Danny Childs, is told stories about what happened to Joey and Albert when they returned home after the First World War.

Whereas the puppet of Joey was the focus of attention in War Horse, Farm Boy has a rusty old tractor which will capture the audience’s imagination. “The play starts with this old green tractor sitting in the corner of a Devon farmyard. But, beneath the rust and dust, lies a wonderful story which brings together two generations.

“It’s a play about friendship, about how the past and present are entwined. How some things change but others remain the same – although they may look different. It’s about the bond between the grandfather, played by Gary Mackay, and his grandson who visits him each summer and the bond they share.

“Farm Boy shows how love, patience and determination will win the day and will reveal how the old tractor found its way onto the farm and changed their lives forever.”

Chris said that like its predecessor Farm Boy is an emotionally engaging and uplifting story which connects the present to the past and us to our families and traditions.

Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Daniel Buckroyd is at the Mercury Theatre Colchester on June 17-18.

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