On the 14th of March, I had the opportunity to watch the critically acclaimed National Theatre production of War Horse at the Theatre Royal. Based on the Michael Morpurgo novel, this version of War Horse is wonderfully adapted by Nick Stafford and presented in association with the award-winning Handspring Puppet Company. It was a truly unforgettable performance, showing an imaginative and innovative representation of the war.
The play tells the story of the First World War through the eyes of a horse, focusing on young Albert Narracot and his beloved horse Joey as they are separated and followed on a heart-tugging journey from the fields of rural Devon to the trenches of First World War France.
This was a show of utter spectacle from the outset. From a small foal smoothly transforming into a large horse to show the transitioning of time, to immense use of lighting and sound, effective use of set and props, and a phenomenal sense of realness throughout.
Lighting and music worked well together to create an extremely intense atmosphere. Piercingly loud music, gunshots and blinding lighting were used remarkably to build momentum and absorb the audience into the action. Along with this, song maker John Tams’ moving songs were beautifully sung by song man Bob Fox and were cleverly interwoven through the piece.
“War Horse was possibly the most convincing and surprisingly realistic performance I have seen”
The acting was of extremely high quality, with each character having their own distinct, loveable, qualities, in turn creating a feeling of attachment to the characters which made the events that took place within the play all the more captivating. Despite its grandeur, War Horse was possibly the most convincing and surprisingly realistic performance I have seen. The cast is truly talented, and particular attention must be given to Thomas Dennis’ breath-taking role as Albert, as he gave a truly touching and endearing performance.
The most distinct feature and by far the most impressive aspect of this play is its use of puppetry. Astonishingly lifelike ‘puppet’ horses, along with other animals and props, are controlled by actors, who skilfully become invisible, leading the audience to forget that humans are in fact running the horses, adding to the element of realness that makes War Horse such a moving show.
The show is a thoroughly entertaining piece, combining attributes of several different genres, making it a play that caters to everybody. Whilst the play has a serious undertone and reflects on one of the most significant and heart-breaking events in history, it manages to portray certain moments in a light-hearted manner and is paired with fantastic comedic timing to create an extremely well-rounded performance.
The show runs for 2 hours and 45 mins, split by a 20-minute interval and is completely gripping from start to finish: there is a reason that War Horse was on London’s West End for a record-breaking 8 years and has played in 11 countries all around the world to over 7 million people.
“The costume was similarly simple yet effective”
War Horse does not need advanced set in order to have mass impact on the audience, it was rather kept simple with a dark backdrop, split by a white strip resembling a piece of paper, on which images were projected to portray the scenes. The costume was similarly simple yet effective, with the colour of costume being utilised to help actors blend into the surrounding scenery.
This extraordinary piece of theatre was special in its ability to take a tragic event and make it into something truly beautiful. In Morpurgo’s words, “War Horse is not simply a show or a play about a war, a horse and a boy. It is an anthem for peace, and reflects, I think, a universal longing for a world without war”. I truly cannot find anything to criticise and I would give this must-see play a 10/10. It will continue to run in Nottingham until the 7th April, so don’t miss out on your chance to see this incredible piece of theatre!
Images courtesy of Theatre Royal Webpage