Thursday, 19 September 2019
THEATRE REVIEW: War Horse - The Curve, Leicester.
It’s been over five years since I first witnessed the magic of “War Horse” in the West End - managing to catch Alistair Brammer (a favourite actor of mine) in the role of Albert whilst he was the understudy. Flash forward a few years and the launch of a UK tour, butterflies appeared in my stomach at the thought of being able to witness the spectacular and astonishingly life-sized horses by South Africa’s Tony Award-winning Handspring Puppet Company. These extraordinary puppets - along with the several talented actors who form the horses - bring breathing, galloping and charging horses to thrilling life on stage. Within the first few minutes you start to stop seeing the people making all of this happen and only see very realistic horses. There really is no other show quite like War Horse!
The story starts on the 5th August, 1912, shortly before the start of World War One, where in Devon, England, we meet farmer Ted Narracott (Jonathan Cobb) who, at an auction, bids against his landlord for a thoroughbred foal - using his mortgage money to do so - much to the dismay of wife Rose (Jo Castleton). Soon Ted’s son Albert forms a strong bond with the foal he names Joey, even managing to train him to come when Albert imitates the sound of an owl. When the Narracots’ farm suffers set backs due to poor weather conditions, Ted wages a bet that he can get Joey to plow the fields. If he wins he gets back the thirty nine guineas he paid for the horse and gets to keep him, if he looses he has to hand Joey over. Albert stops doing his other chores to train Joey and the pair win the bet. On the 5th August 1914 - Church bells signal to announce that Britain is now at war against Germany and soon all the men are sent off to fight - Albert tries to join them but at only 16 years old is told he is too young. Reluctantly Joey is sold to go to help the men travel to France to attack Germany, but is promised that he will return to Albert should he survive.
Whilst the stage set is minimal against a black backdrop with a large ripped piece of paper raised above it which displays moving pencil sketches to set the various scenes, this works incredibly well - the intricate detailed sketches of Devon countryside, churches, houses, to running horses to the various war scenes, gives the audience the illusion of reading the book of the same name by Michael Morpugo (which the stage adaptation is based on) and the book coming to life.
This production, in my opinion, trumps the previous West End production. There are no weak performers and the layout of Curve theatre ensures a fantastic view from every angle. Scott Miller as Albert, whom we see grow from a young lad to eventually finding a way of being part of the war as he sets off to find Joey, transitions effortlessly from young playful lad to a young man defying odds and faced head-on with a war zone. Of course though it’s the wonderful puppets and puppeteers which really make this book to stage adaptation in a league of its own From the delicate tiny birds to the crows feasting on the war victims' bodies, to the feisty goose who takes no nonsense from anyone and of course, the magnificent Joey and Topthorn. (Ironically I’m actually afraid of horses and won’t get close up to them, and if the opportunity to see these puppets up close I would probably decline because they are still too life like for my nerves!) Whilst the book itself is a popular children’s choice, I wouldn’t recommend this production to anyone under the age of eleven nor to anyone with a sensitive nature. Filled with realistic gunshots which had me jumping out of my seat on a few occasions, the fight scenes and various tragedies surrounding them are extremely realistic and therefore quite traumatic at times.
Having had eight record-breaking years in the West End, playing to over seven million people worldwide, the National Theatre’s acclaimed production of War Horse is running at Curve, Leicester until 12th October. War Horse is truly a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece, a must see outstanding piece of work.
Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 18/9/19