New London Theatre, London
Saturday 1st September 2012
Based on the children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford and produced by the National Theatre, War Horse tells the absorbing tale of a Devonshire stable lad and his horse Joey, through the hectic years of World War Two. A captivating and emotional story; funny, sad, touching, exciting; but with a detailed and educational undertone too, introducing trench warfare to, potentially, a first-time audience. Fast paced and numerous scene changes demand an imaginative and engaging set, which houses everything from a Devonshire farm to a French battlefield and tank attack with true ingenuity.
There are some lovely performances among the numerous cast. A likable young Albert Narracott, Joey's owner, is energetically played by Jack Holden, Richard Cant plays the big hearted German Friedrich Müller with sensitivity, and Robert Horwell makes an entertaining Sergeant Thunder, among many others.
The actors' performances are secondary in this production though, to the astonishing puppetry of the horses. South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, fully deserving of their awards both in the West End and on Broadway, have created a masterpiece of theatrical entertainment. Joey, and later his wartime friend Topthorn, are each operated by three separate teams of masterful puppeteers who, within the first few minutes of the play, blend seamlessly into their puppets creating an amazingly lifelike depiction of full size horses. The nuances of character brought out through the intricate movements of these puppets is entirely believable and utterly enchanting.
This really is a must see piece of theatre, and with the West End run booking a year ahead and a UK tour scheduled for 2013 too, there should be lots of opportunity to experience it.