War Horse theatre review (UK Tour): A story of bravery, love and never giving up hope during a time of war.
War Horse theatre review (UK Tour) by Katey Thompson.
This is 10th Anniversary tour of War Horse is a staggering emotional production on a hugely ambitious scale. Based on the book written by Michael Morpurgo, this stage show raises the bar in terms of artistic presentation, puppetry and quality of production. Having spent such a long run on the London, regional and worldwide stages, it should be no surprise that it is polished, but this was truly flawless. Every scene had the audience on the edge of their seats, jumping at every gunshot and explosion, and shedding a fair few tears along the way.
The story starts with the first encounter of Albert (Thomas Dennis), a Devonshire farm boy, and a horse purchased at auction by his drunken father (Jasper William Cartwright). His farming family struggle to makes ends meet and the payment sends them closer to the brink. In the process of raising the horse, Albert rescues his family, restores his father’s pride, and makes a successful working horse out of the colt he calls Joey. But this is only the start as it now 1914 and the first world war is just starting.
Very soon at the start of the play, you get a sense of what the production team have achieved with the incredible puppets, including several horses, a persistent goose, and swallows which swoop realistically at the end of what looks like fishing rods. This openly honest approach to animation, which leaves the puppeteers exposed to the audience and dressed in period costume is refreshing, and often leaves you amazed with the realistic interpretation of equine locomotion. Every flick of the horses ears, stamp of their feet and nod of the head are beautifully executed. The moments when the farmyard Goose, which honks its way across stage, is repeatedly thwarted from getting into the farmhouse raise a few well needed laughs in this deeply dark and moving war story.
Period folk music is used selectively in the play and has a weight and impact due to the cast forming a large choir, musically backed by just an accordion, by the singer Bob Fox.
Cinematography is used to add a moving and evolving backdrop to the story, it resemble a slip of paper that has been torn from a sketch book, The sketches contained black and white pencil drawings of the Devonshire village to the battle field of the Somme. This simple backdrop reinforces the idea that war affected everyone, young old, town, country, rich and poor.
The emotion and connection with characters on both sides of the front, is both a surprising and revealing perspective. One which is afforded by the common connection between man and beast in the theatre of war. The bond is formed early on in the play where Albert tries to connect with the colt to feed him oats from a bucket. You truly get a sense of them being intertwined throughout and even during the war when they are miles apart there is still hope. This is a must see show for anyone who is old enough to comprehend the strong themes that permeate a story of love, hard work, friendship and hardship that the horses and soldiers suffered as a result of war.
War Horse is running at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking until 18th August 2018.