Entertainment & Arts

War Horse musicians lose legal bid

War Horse Image copyright AP
Image caption There are a number of productions of War Horse running - all now using pre-recorded music

Five musicians have failed to win a High Court order against the National Theatre after being made redundant from the West End production of War Horse.

The musicians took legal action last week following the theatre's decision to end their contribution - of playing live over a pre-recorded soundtrack.

They had sought an injunction to be allowed back on the show until a breach of contract case could be heard.

However, a judge said he was not persuaded to make an interim order.

Mr Justice Cranston added the musicians' prospects at a trial for breach of contract were "strong".

Neyire Ashworth, Andrew Callard, Jonathan Eddie, David Holt and Colin Rae - who had been with the hit show since 2009 - had their roles cut back in March 2013 to just a few minutes per performance.

Their contracts were terminated last month when live, orchestrated music was cut from the production - although it still incorporates live folk songs and choral numbers.

The group said they had continued to show up for nightly performances only to be turned away.

'Better than nothing'

The musicians' counsel James Laddie QC said: "The claimants have not accepted this breach of their contracts, and have elected to affirm their contracts.

"They have at all times made it clear that they remain willing and able to attend work and to perform their obligations under their contracts."

"Even a small walk-on role is better than nothing. It is perhaps an indication of how tough the musical world is that they are happy with that - happy being part of an ensemble, being associated with War Horse and picking up regular wages week in, week out."

The National Theatre said the decision to cut live music from the show was made for artistic and financial reasons.

David Reade QC said the theatre was entitled to terminate their contracts as there was no longer an orchestra in the production, saying War Horse was a play that featured music - rather than a musical production.

"The orchestra was not an integral part of the play, and indeed there is no live band in any other production [of War Horse] around the world," he said.

The Theatre said it welcomed the High Court's decision.

"It is important to emphasise that War Horse has always been, and will continue to be, a play in which music plays an integral part, with a recorded orchestral under-score and central roles for folk musicians who perform live," it said in a statement.

If the order had been granted, it would have impacted the new cast and creative direction of the show, which has been staged and lit without the presence of musicians since 17 March.

War Horse is one of the National Theatre's most successful productions during the tenure of outgoing artistic director Sir Nicholas Hytner, having been seen by more than 2.5 million people worldwide.

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