Throughout my 2nd year at university I studied a module called ‘Adaptations for the Stage’ for which we had to discuss, identify and analyse the importance of stage adaptations. We looked at film-to-stage, radio-to-stage and probably the most popular one of them all, novel to stage. Understandably we spent a considerable amount of time focussing on Nick Stafford’s brave theatrical adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s acclaimed novel, War Horse; an engaging production with marvellous acting, masterful design and minimal commercialism. I remember three years ago when I enquired about War Horse tickets at a Leicester Square box office and was told that they were sold out for the next few months. At the time, I just couldn’t understand why but boy do I understand now.
The play has a light opening with scenes that bring genuine smiles to the faces in the audience; the horse auction, the door closing on the trapped chicken and the introduction of Albert are just a few of those moments.
Albert starts his relationship with Joey and in the beginning has no real connection or chemistry with the foal that his father has acquired. I imagine there were plenty of pet owners in the audience identifying with many of the moments between Albert and Joey which was a wonderful portrayal with the introduction, naming process, training, and then the development of their relationship. In fact, the show took a fall in energy when the two were separated from each other.
From a directorial perspective, capturing the essence of war must have been a considerable challenge for co-directors Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris.
War Horse gives us an insight into how families in villages and small towns were affected by war. The contrast before and after, of the sounding war bells, is very emotional.
I enjoyed that the story was partly told from a German point of view that didn’t suggest any bias. A stellar performance from Ian Shaw as the German Officer Friedrich must be noted as one of the show’s highlights.
It is good that the music in the show is kept to a minimum, ensuring the production retains its core values as a play. For example, the soldiers’ singing ‘Only Remembered For What We Have Done’ worked great in the context of the show through its powerful lyrics and soulful singing.
The show stealer is clearly Joey, aka the puppet controllers. From head to toe (well hoof) every detail was exact and you often forget that there are humans controlling the horse.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rosie Walker’s sympathetic and painful portrayal of Rose, Albert’s mother. Sion Daniel Young was excellent in his portrayal of Albert, and credit to for the actors that performed as soldiers, as they each provided a unique and telling story.
I have no doubt that the beautiful horses created by the Handspring Puppet Company helped to persuade the ‘powers that be’ to send the show to the West End in April 2009.
The moment when Joey transforms from foal to adult horse is one of the most visually stunning treats you’ll ever witness and I guarantee you that. War Horse is worth every ounce of hype it’s received over the years; an exemplary piece of art which also emphasizes the beauty and powers of puppetry. I urge you to take your family, your partner, your children, your boss or just yourself to go along to see the show.
Review by Sahil Jon
War Horse is showing at the New London Theatre