Monday, December 07, 2009

Old Fashion Manipulation - War Horse - Play Review

War Horse - National Theatre in the West End - New London Theatre - London, UK - **** (out of 5)
Based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo, Adapted by Nick Stafford, Directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, In association with the Handspring Puppet Company

I didn't realize going into a show called War Horse that it was going to be so literal. The National Theatre production, now moved to the West End due to popularity (despite being a play with no stars AND not being based on a movie) is really just a tale about a horse, during the war. That's pretty much it! No irony, no twist, no tricks.

Except to tell the tale, the beautiful production uses the tricks of puppetry to present the tale about horse named Joey, from being a young foal to it's chemistry with it's young owner Albert, until it get sold and shipped to France to join the cavalry during the 1st world war. Since Albert can't forget about his horse Joey, Albert goes off in search of his horse and since the story is based on a children's book, it's probably not a spoiler to say that the story ends with a reunion.

It's such straight up storytelling that it through me for a loop. It's like an old Hollywood epic movie told with no cynicism and good morals told in a slow moving narrative. There are some moments that could have progressed slightly faster, but in the end, the play won me over with its brazen heart on its sleeves and simple storytelling.

The puppetry and the numerous people that are required to act out each horse (and there are several) is simply marvelous, and it doesn't just stop at horses but includes a duck that seems to want to steal the spotlight with its own personality, as well as other animals. Each animal and horse takes on a personality of its own, and soon enough, the people puppeteering the horses seem to disappear.

There's also some beautiful props and settings upon the circular stage (in the theatre that was formerly Cats) and I won't spoil it but there's an intense and huge prop made similarly to the horses that shows up near the climax of the play.

But puppets can only go so far, and the humans need to hold the story together (though the cast has changed since I saw the show). At the centre of the story, Kit Harrington (above with Howard Ward) played Albert, the young man who bonds with his horse Joey, and like the play, he brings a sweet trusting innocence to the forefront in a role that requires just that.

Albert is our point of view and entry into the story and Harrington, with his husky yet boyish voice has that natural charm and likability to draw us in.

Bronagh Gallagher and Colin Mace play Albert's parents, giving us that storybook image of an English family farm.

Patrick O'Kane is terrific as the German soldier who ends up bonding with Joey as Joey has fallen into the hands of the enemy.

The play works as the story moves from simple farm story towards the insanity of war, and while the play still remains family friendly, it doesn't shy away from the horrors of war. The play gets more and more intense with some thrilling theatrical moments and its wonderful staging makes use of it's large stage.

There's a beautiful usage of a projection screen that wraps the circular stage that manages to blend in the new technology to evoke 1914.

While I still think the whole play could edit itself down a few moments and cut it's running time by about 20 min., the astounding production of puppets and props, along with the old fashioned story that sticks to the basics to move our emotions along, creates a breathtaking production that manages to inspire awe, and I won't lie and say that I may have shed a tear or two by the end of the play.

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1 comment:

Esther said...

I love the photos. Those horse puppets look astounding. So lifelike.