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War Horse is a play based on the eponymous novel by Michael Morpurgo and performed at the New London Theatre in London.
The story tells of a boy, Albert, who looks after a foul, Joey, his father bid for whilst drunk and how he grows to love the horse. The foul grows into a stunning and powerful horse that is meant for riding after Albert trains it up.
Albert's drunken father, in a bid for more money, sells the horse to the army who will send it to the WW1 battlefields.
Eventually Albert gets into the army too and the story is of him trying to find Joey. Along side Albert's story there is Joey's tale of what he does during the war.
All the animals in the play are puppets associated with the Handspring Puppet Company. This premise concerned me before I went to the play. I thought the puppets would be off-putting. I couldn't have been more wrong! The puppetry was brilliant, elegant, and masterful. Joey was played by three people: One for the head and two under the torso controlling the legs.
The puppets added to the mood of the play in a completely unexpected way. They give so much emotion they really are part of the story. You don't notice that there are three skilled puppeteers, but see the puppet as a real horse. It is perhaps more realistic than having an actual horse. Mad as that may sound, it is true; the puppets are controlled to behave and look like real horses whilst adding to the plot. A real horse wouldn't be able to add to the plot in the same way as they would be too unreliable.
The staging was amazing. The programme puts it best: 'not documentary realism, but poetic'.
There was a large rotating circle in the middle which was used to great affect. Many of the battles used the rotation to add an extra dimension that would be otherwise impossible to achieve.
The sound and lighting were impressive. The explosions and flashes brought you into the scene in a way I have never seen before. The smoke effects were well done and not over done as in many performances.
The singer with the violin was good and fitted in with the performance. Some of the songs seemed to be Joey's thoughts where as others were more general to the scene and not of any one character.
The best play I have seen and one I would gladly watch again.
5 stars out of 5.