Written by: Nick Stafford
Production year: 2008-2009
Runtime One: September 10, 2008 – March 31, 2009 – National Theatre – Olivier Theatre, London
Runtime Two: April 03, 2009 – September 26, 2009 – New London Theatre, London
Other cast: Bronagh Gallagher
A captured foal is brought to Devon in the United Kingdom to be auctioned. Hoping to give it to his son Billy, Arthur Narracott bids on the foal; instead, his brother Ted competes with him and bids 39 guineas—an exorbitant amount for the poor farmer, winning the horse. The local drunkard, Ted is considered to be a coward, for refusing to have fought together with his brother in the earlier Boer War in South Africa. At the auction, Ted used money reserved to pay his farm mortgage. Ted’s wife Rose fears they will lose their farm. Their son Albert promises to raise the foal and train him for sale. The boy names the foal Joey, and forms a strong bond with him during training.
Jealous of his cousin Albert, Billy convinces his father to get Ted drunk and make a bet: if Joey (bred and trained as a hunter, not a plough horse) can be taught to plough within a week, Arthur will pay Ted 39 guineas, the auction price. If Joey won’t plough, Billy gets the horse. Albert successfully teaches Joey to pull the plough and gets to keep him.
News of the outbreak of World War I reaches Devon. When Ted sells Joey to the cavalry, Albert is crushed. Lieutenant James Nicholls, who often sketched Albert riding the hunter, promises that he will personally look after the fine horse. At the same time, Arthur enlists Billy to fight despite his protests. Arthur gives Billy his grandfather’s knife for protection. Joey and Topthorn (another army horse) are shipped to France. The charges of the British cavalry are overwhelmed by the fire from German machine guns, representing their new technology. During the first charge, Nicholls is shot and killed. Billy is assigned to ride Joey into battle and is captured by German troops.
Nicholls’s sketchbook is sent to Albert, who learns Joey is serving “unprotected” in France. He lies about his age, enlists in the army and goes to France. There he befriends Private David Taylor, a fellow soldier.
The Germans have taken Billy to a French farm being used as a makeshift hospital. He is killed brandishing his knife. Emilie, the girl of the farm family, is nearly killed in the altercation. German officer Friedrich Muller is reminded of his own daughter left in Germany. He and Emilie share a love of horses and, with Emilie’s mother, they take care of the horses Joey and Topthorn, which are being kept to pull an ambulance for wounded soldiers.
When a shell kills most of his comrades, Friedrich switches his coat and identity with an enlisted medic, hoping to survive to return home. His subterfuge is discovered but Friedrich enables Emilie and her mother to escape. When the Germans force the two fine horses to work as draft horses, Joey inspires Topthorn to pull in order to survive. Once enemies, the two horses become friends, but Topthorn dies from exhaustion.
As Friedrich mourns the horse, a tank attack hits his group, killing him and driving Joey to run. He is caught in barbed wire in No Man’s Land between the enemy lines. The Germans and British each send out a man under a white flag to aid the horse. Winning a coin toss, the British take the injured Joey back to camp.
Albert and David’s infantry division encounter Emilie, who is alone and traumatized; they take her to British headquarters. On the way, Albert sees a dead horse with Billy’s knife in him. Believing that the horse is Joey, Albert is broken. Recognizing Joey’s name, Emilie tries to talk to Albert, but David is shot and killed, and Albert blinded by tear gas. Emilie does not have the chance to tell him about his horse.
Behind the lines, in a British encampment, Albert tells his story to a nurse just as the damaged Joey is brought to the camp by soldiers. The soldiers prepare to kill the injured horse, but Albert whistles and Joey responds to him. Learning the full story, the soldiers agree to let Albert care for Joey during their joint convalescence. The horse and farmboy return home safe to Devon at the end of the war.