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Musicians fail in legal bid to rejoin West End production of War Horse

War Horse at the New London Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
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Musicians who were made redundant from the National Theatre’s West End production of War Horse have failed to secure an interim injunction which they had hoped would allow them to return to work.

At the High Court today a judge ruled that the five band members, whose contracts were terminated by the NT last month, should not be granted the temporary court order.

The musicians had hoped the order would allow them to continue to play in the New London Theatre run of the show until a decision at a final hearing in the future.

However, despite not being granted the order, the musicians were told by Mr Justice Cranston at today’s ruling that they had “strong” prospects for bringing a case on the grounds of breach of contract by the National Theatre.

“There is in my judgement a serious issue to be tried on the question of whether the National Theatre was contractually entitled to terminate the claimants’ contracts on the grounds set out in its March 4, 2014 letters,” he said.

Mr Justice Cranston said the interim injunction sought “would involve unwinding the production of War Horse without the band and forcing the creative team to work with musicians pending trial, despite not believing that they contribute positively to the play.”

He added: “Significant in the balance against interim relief is the interference with artistic expression in requiring the National Theatre to reintegrate a band into the production.”

At the end of their employment period, the musicians were each being paid up to £1,500 per week, which the NT claimed, including deputy salaries, amounted to about a quarter of its annual £1 million budget for musicians.

Mr Justice Cranston added: “It is most unfortunate that in the interim period the claimants will have no equivalent income from the National Theatre as at present, but that is no reason for requiring their reintegration in the play.”

A National Theatre spokeswoman said the organisation welcomed the judge’s decision to refuse the injunction.

She said: “We welcome the High Court’s decision to deny this order, and to support the NT and creative team in deciding the best way for the play to be produced. 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, as do the cast of 38 actors in the many folksongs and choral numbers.”

She said the “vast majority” of the orchestral music in the West End show had always been recorded and that all other productions of the show, including the one on Broadway, had no live musicians.

The Musicians’ Union, which is providing legal support to the five musicians, declined to comment.

A full hearing is expected to go ahead in around three months’ time.


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