Based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo
Adapted by Nick Stafford
In association with the Handspring Puppet Company
Lyric Theatre at The Star
Photographs by Brinkhoff Mögenburg
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
The National Theatre of Great Britain has been touring this production of War Horse since 2007, and eleven million people have seen it. So what compels people of all ages to keep seeing it?
What’s the attraction?
It all starts with a good story. Michael Morpurgo’s novel, set in Devon in the south of England at the start of World War I, tells the story of a boy named Albert Narracott whose drunkard father impulsively buys a young horse at an auction, and Albert takes responsibility for its care and names him “Joey”.
When the magnificent Joey grows to full size, other people in the area become envious and do what they can to acquire the horse, without success. When the British Army begins to purchase horses for the war effort in France, Albert’s father, without telling his son, sells Joey for three times the price that he paid.
Joey is taken to the front in France and Albert enlists so that he can find Joey and bring him home. There are many twists and turns in the plot that involves other horses, barbed wire barricades, French farm girls, German soldiers, a benevolent German captain and a trigger-happy British Army officer.
The entire National Theatre of Great Britain cast is excellent, and the Handspring Puppet Company is absolutely brilliant. The two larger horses are seventeen or eighteen hands high, and three puppeteers operate each one.
Even though it’s obvious that they are puppets, the detail work on the horses is truly impressive. The ear movements, the eye movements, body movements and posture are enough to compel us to buy in; we forget that they are not real animals. There’s a magical theatrical moment when one of the larger horses dies and the three puppeteers stand silently beside the body for a moment before exiting stage left. It’s as if the spirit left the body.
One of the final, powerful scenes brings most of the audience to tears in a heart-warming way.
Little wonder that War Horse has been so popular since it started touring. It’s one of the most unusual, enthralling and fascinating productions I've seen in years. The opening night standing ovation said it all.