Based on the novel by former children's laureate, Michael Morpurgo, War Horse is the endearing story of a boy, Alfred and his horse Joey. The 1982 novel remained just that for 25 years before the National Theatre premiered the groundbreaking play in London in 2007. Since then the production has opened on Broadway, in Canada, Melbourne, and the first non-English-language production opened in Berlin on 19 October 2013 - just one day after the first press night for the UK touring production at Birmingham Hippodrome.
The play follows horse Joey who is sold to a yeomanry cavalry division and serves in France for the British in the First World War. He is later captured and serves on the German side before ending up wounded and wondering no-man's land. Joey is pursued by his young master Albert who is determined to be reunited with his best friend.
Joey, Albert and Goose (London Cast Photography)
With a minimalist set, War Horse can still boast huge production values. Presented in association with Handspring Puppet Company the animals in the show are brought to life by incredibly realistic puppets. The horses of course are the main focus but even a goose and some birds become scene-stealers. Generally, I think there's a real danger with puppetry in the fact that it is often used for comic effect - there are humorous moments that receive an affectionate giggle but even so, for the entire time the animals are manipulated with such conviction that what you're watching is completely real. When theatre can truly manage to suspend such levels of disbelief it really is magical and War Horse is the shining example of that.
Lee Armstrong is an endearing Albert who you cannot help but cry for like his strained mother Rose, played by Karen Henthorn, both ensure that your heart is left aching. Nisa Cole is excellent as Emilie and shows incredible emotional versatility. Mention must go to the superb puppeteers who are perhaps overlooked as you're caught up in the action but the detail of movement (ear twitching to the motion of breathing) is nothing short of genius.
Topthorn and Joey (London Cast Photography)
Honestly, this not a relaxing experience but theatre shouldn't always be. For the play's entirety you are at war and my heart was in my mouth for the duration. We've all heard the poems and seen the films but here you're presented with war and its horrors and you're very much a part of it - a breathtaking experience. The heartstrings are well and truly pulled at as you're taken through the tragic, ultimately bittersweet story.
War Horse is phenomenal. By the end, I could barely applaud from an overwhelming emotion that you cannot help but release. I would urge anyone to buy a ticket however every performance is now sold out for the duration of the Birmingham tour dates. You can enquire about returned tickets by calling 0844 338 5000. Alternatively you can book other tour venues or for the London production here.
There is an extra event in Birmingham with good ticket availability, War Horse: Only Remembered on Friday 8th November at 2pm. Author Michael Morpurgo will be reading from the book on the set of War Horse and is joined by acclaimed musicians John Tams and Barry Coope. For more information and to book, click here.
You can listen to my interview with author Michael Morpurgo here:
Cast List: James Alper, Lee Armstrong, Peter Ash, Emily Aston, Nisa Cole, Joe Darke, David Fleeshman, Adam Foster, Bob Fox, Jason Furnival, Thomas Gilbey, Oliver Grant, Finn Hanlon, Karl Haynes, Karen Henthorn, Steven Hillman, Michael Humphreys, Linford Johnson, Andrew Keay, Rebecca Killick, Tom Larkin, John Leader, Helen Macfarlane, Sean McKenzie, Alex Moran, Suzan Nixon, Tom Norman, Joseph Richardson, Paul Simpson, Gavin Swift, Simeon Truby, Peter Twose, Richard Vorster, Martin Wenner
Interview with John Leader
Interview with John Leader