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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Read: War Horse is story-telling at its best

Human Beings have a very intimate and innate relationship with stories. It’s something that seems to be at the core of our humanity and gives us the ability to suspend rational thought and become engrossed in the thrall of imagination.  

War Horse is a perfect example of this. It uses the ancient art of puppetry to represent horses and other animals. Yet despite the fact that these are clearly not real horses and the people operating them are clearly visible, we, the audience, go along with the conceit. 

Why? 

Because not only is the story compelling and well acted, it is also because the puppet masters make these horses come to life. Every move and vocalisation is provided by these men and women and watching their absolute commitment and focus on what they are doing is remarkable. They literally become the life force of these animals. 

The play begins shortly before World War One when a young farm boy Albert forms an incredibly close and special bond with a pony called Joey. As war breaks out, Joey is bought by the army and taken off to France. Albert, heartbroken, lies about his age and enlists to fight. 

With great skill, War Horse re-creates the horror of the conflict, without the need for true realism and gore. A superb blending of light, sound effects, music and choreography provides a compelling and deeply emotional representation of the carnage. 

In interviewing some of the cast and crew this week, I heard from several of them that this show is actually about peace, and I agree. The war is not glorified, what is, is loyalty, bravery, commitment and most of all love.

I have mentioned the puppeteers already, but I want to retouch on them again, because without them, this production wouldn’t have been as strong. The reason they were so valuable can be illustrated by one particular scene.  

It is a moment when one of the horses dies during the war. It seems so sudden but so very real, and then, as the body comes to rest on the ground, the puppeteers step away from the animal, form a line reminiscent of an honour guard, stand motionless for a moment and then exit. It is a strikingly sad and poetic moment as the soul and life force of the animal departs.   

I suppose it is ‘soul,’ however you choose to define it, that is at the heart of this play. It is imbued in the story and it is definitely imbued in the cast who deliver superbly genuine and heartfelt performances. 

On opening night, it was Danny Hendrix as Albert Narracott who made this show extra special. His ability to transform from idealistic youth to battle weary veteran was extraordinary and his delivery of a range of emotions from delight to grief was electrifying. This is an actor who will go on to make his mark in theatre!

War Horse is a theatrical work that will leave a lasting impression on you. It is a magnificent testament not only to the art of theatre, but also to the incredible talent and commitment of people who believe in the magical transforming power of story. 

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