Horse puppet

Relax, it’s War Horse!

On 20 September, the National Theatre will be staging a relaxed performance of the internationally acclaimed stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, in association with The National Autistic Society (NAS).

The performance is designed for those who may enjoy a less formal environment, in particular people with autism, sensory or communication disorders or learning disabilities. Audience members will be free to come and go as they please throughout the performance, lighting and sound levels during the show will be adjusted to soften their impact, and there will be a relaxed attitude to noise and talking . The idea is to provide a more supportive environment for disabled people and their families, many of whom may otherwise feel a trip to the theatre would be out of the question.

Ros Hayes, Head of Access at the National Theatre, said: “We are keen to share our plays with a wider audience, and provide an opportunity for families to enjoy a visit to the theatre together.  We want to create a welcoming, stress-free environment and our directors, designers and technical teams have worked really hard to achieve that.”

The National Theatre held its first relaxed performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time three years ago, which was then repeated in the West End. Following the success of the show, the National Theatre put on three further relaxed performances  – Romeo and Juliet, Up Down Boy and The Elephantom.

Finding creative compromises

For resident director Andy Brunskill, this is the first relaxed performance he’s worked on for the National Theatre, and he says the biggest challenge has been keeping it true to the original show. “We wanted to find creative compromises, so that people would still experience War Horse, without noticing the tweaks,” he explained.

“So we’ve been  reducing the extremes really: toning down any bright flashing lights or loud noises. The technical team have been working on the bullet noises, for example, so they will still have the effect of a gun going off, but they won’t be so loud.

“I will be giving a preliminary talk at the beginning of the show explaining some of the devices we’ll be using so it’s not too much of a shock. This is a play about war, and you can’t have a story about war without guns and people dying, but it is also a story about hope and enduring friendship, so that balances it out.

“For the actors, this is an opportunity to perform to a different audience and that’s very exciting. I personally have learned a lot from this experience too – about how to tell a story to a different audience. People receive stories in different ways, and having to refresh how you tell a story is both challenging and stimulating.”

The National Theatre is producing a Visual Story for the relaxed performance of War Horse and this will be available to those attending, a week ahead of the show. This will give information about the play and the New London Theatre as well as lots of images to help prepare for people’s visit.

The relaxed performance of War Horse will take place at 2pm on Saturday 20 September. All seats are £25 each. Relaxed performance booking telephone line: 02074523961. For more information visit the National Theatre website.