As my dad pointed out, there seems to be a theme emerging from the recent shows I have seen... World War 1. Last week I went to see The Railway Children ( a little earlier), this week War Horse, and then in a few days I will be seeing Birdsong. So theoretically, I should be learning some history as well as enjoying good drama.
War Horse has exceeded all expectations, starting life as a book by Michael Morpurgo, and then onto the West End, via The National Theatre. Soon it transfers to Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is currently in the process of directing a film of the story adapted for the big screen by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis. The transformation of book to play is something few productions manage really effectively. Nick Stafford’s adaptation for War Horse is seamless and natural , however I do feel that at times it drags slightly and is perhaps a little too long. The book is essentially a children’s novel, and the production states it is suitable for kids of ten and over, I would disagree. Aside from the gruelling subject matter and sheer length the show, War Horse has some scary moments with frequent loud gun shots, often aimed towards the audience. I found it worrying and I am 22!
Reputation can be a dreadful curse on a show, and I think this was the downfall of War Horse for me. I had heard such enthusiastic things about the play so I was expecting a masterpiece. I cannot deny that the show is stunning, and completely unique in its approach to puppetry. Not only are the animals beautifully constructed, but the movements are breathtakingly real and accurate. I did in parts forget the horses are not alive.
The acting is on the whole convincing, Matthew Aubrey plays Albert Narracott with an endearing quality and strength that is appealing, but I found he shouts rather too much. I loved watching Zubin Varla, who takes on the role of Kavallerie Hauptmann Friedrich Muller, and amusingly tackles three languages for the part. The best actors of the night though are those agile people who move and dance as the horses, at times there are four of five people moving one animal.
Millions of horses died during World War I, War Horse is a play that remembers these forgotten heroes. Its popularity is justified, there is nothing like this play anywhere else on Broadway or in the West End, and it is very innovative in its use of puppetry. It is a story that touches many, though surprisingly I found I did not cry for long. I am disappointed not to have enjoyed this play as much as I hoped, but still found I was happy to experience the magic of these brave horses and the actors that make them come to life.
Book tickets here.