War Horse, the stage show about the universal pity of war, could be a New Zealand story.
War Horse could be our horse.
The novel turned award-winning play is touring Auckland in June and one of the three puppeteers who bring the cane and mesh-built horse to life told the Herald the decision to come to the city was, in part, to recognise the country's contribution to war the play is set during.
"Ten thousand New Zealand horses were sent to World War I, only four came back," Shaun McKee said during a promotional visit to Auckland this week.
"It's a huge contribution, so it's lovely that War Horse can come to New Zealand."
The novel, written by Sir Michael Morpurgo in 1982 and later adapted to the stage by Nick Stafford, is about the beloved horse of a British boy, who enlists underage so he can find the horse after the animal is sent to the front lines.
Sir Michael has said the novel is designed not to be about the war from one country's perspective, but about the suffering and grieving on all sides.
It was a message that was as relevant a century ago as it is now, McKee said, a week after 50 people were killed while they worshipped at two mosques in Christchurch. A man has been charged with murder, with police saying more charges are likely.
"Ultimately, whether it's what happened in Christchurch or anything [the same] anywhere, [Sir] Michael puts it best, that the play is an anthem of peace. The play is told from the point of view of the horses, and horses have no prejudice . . . they only respond to how you treat them.
"If we treat each other with kindness and love, everywhere will be a much better place."
Three puppeteers play the role of Joey the horse, each known as the head, the heart and the hind.
McKee, who plays the head, said the puppeteers controlled "emotional indicators" to play Joey, who weighs 63kg and is made of cane wrapped around an aluminium frame and covered with a see-through mesh skin.
His part was to control Joey's ears while the heart puppeteer's emotional indicator was Joey's breathing and the hind puppeteer the horse's tail.
Each was also responsible for the technical side of jointly playing the role, such as controlling the legs and maintaining the horse's eyeline, he said.
All of this was done without saying a word, the 32-year-old Londoner, an actor who has also worked as a puppeteer in the Fantastic Beasts' series, Alice Through the Looking Glass and in motion capture roles for Guitar Hero, said.
"You learn to communicate in other ways, through movements and breathing . . . a lot of the show is improvised on the night. You have moves you have to stick to but most of it is played in the moment."
As well as War Horse's actors, the play includes 23 puppet-roles, including Joey's rival-turned-friend, military horse Topthorn, crows, swallows, and a "comedy" goose.
The audience could expect Joey's story to move them, in some cases to tears, he said.
"But it's really a story about friendship and love. It's ultimately uplifting."