PICTURES: Queen praises Joey the War Horse on National's 50th
The Queen was left praising one of the stars of the West End as she celebrated the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary – a prancing horse from the acclaimed production of War Horse.
The monarch has seen the smash-hit show, based on the novel by Devon-based author Michael Morpurgo, which tells the moving story of Joey the horse who serves in the First World War.
And during the Diamond Jubilee River Thames pageant last summer the Queen appeared to enjoy watching the mechanical animal running across the roof of the National Theatre, which first staged the play, as the royal barge sailed past.
As her tour of the theatre company based on London’s South Bank ended she told the mechanical animal operated by Gareth Aled, Darren Cockrill and Sam Wylott: “It’s lovely to see you again.”
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Mr Aled, a puppeteer, said after meeting the Queen, who saw the production in 2009, and Duke of Edinburgh that Joey had also travelled to the Windsor Castle to visit the monarch.
He added: “She’s familiar with horses and with Joey, it’s a very lovely privilege to have that meeting, she knows horses probably better than we do.”
Joey walked up to the Queen and followed her as she walked to her waiting state limousine before rearing up on his hind legs as the car departed.
Mr Aled added: “It’s all about striving for realistic horse movement, every horse movement should feel life-like.”
The National Theatre opened its doors in 1963 with the Hollywood star Sir Laurence Olivier as its first director and over the decades has staged 800 productions.
It has premiered plays by world leading playwrights like Sir Tom Stoppard, Sir Peter Shaffer, Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett and Sir David Hare, and been the home to outstanding revivals of classic plays and musicals.
The famous theatre moved to its South Bank home in 1976 and is marking half a century of entertaining the nation with a gala performance next month featuring scenes from memorable productions.
Among the highlights include Dame Judi Dench, who appeared in Antony and Cleopatra in 1987, reprising the lead female role and delivering her elegy to Antony, while Sir Michael Gambon and Sir Derek Jacobi are expected to play parts in Pinter’s No Man’s Land.
During her tour of the theatre, hosted by its director, Sir Nicholas Hytner, the Queen saw a rehearsal for the production Emil And The Detectives, based on the classic story of a boy living in 1920s Germany, which will open at the end of next month.
Daniel Patten, 12, who stars in the lead role, performed a scene with Naomi Frederick, his stage mother Ida, which featured the youngster being sent to stay with his grandparents in Berlin.
The royal visitors also heard the cast of Guys And Dolls perform Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat, which will feature in the 50th anniversary gala night.
Dame Joan Plowright, who was married to Sir Laurence Olivier when he led the National Theatre, also met the Queen.
The award-winning actress said: “It’s a very special day, it’s quite hard not to feel quite emotional about it.
“I remember what the day was like when it was about to open – the nerves and apprehension. It’s a huge task to take on the first season of a new national theatre.”
She said the new company had started life at the Old Vic theatre before moving to the South Bank, adding: “We had no idea what was going to happen in the future.”
Dame Joan went on: “It’s had quite a history – I would say more triumphs then disasters.”
The Queen then unveiled a plaque to mark her visit and the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary.
She cautiously stepped forward to a large stand shrouded by a red velvet curtain and, in response to a question she asked, John Makinson, the theatre’s chairman, replied, joking: “It is dangerous, yes.”
When she pulled a gold handle, the curtain was raised to reveal a large cake elaborately decorated with elements from a theatre.
A toy train from another National Theatre production, The Curious Incident Of The Dog in the Night-Time, travelled around the cake.
Prop maker Allan Edwards, who created the mechanism which lifted the curtain and set the locomotive off, said: “The Queen said to me ‘Well, that was more interesting than normal’.”
Mike Garrett, workshop manager in the props department, who made the cake, said: “It represents in the items all the different aspects of the theatre - workshops, rehearsal rooms, right through to front of house.
“There are even ‘60s wigs from our production One Man Two Guvnors.”