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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Theatre - War Horse - New London Theatre

Star rating – 8/10

I wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘War Horse’. I didn’t know if this critically acclaimed and wildly popular show that transferred a few years ago from its debut at the National Theatre to its current West End home, would live up to the hype, or just be a good old fashioned dollop of sentimentality. Well this story, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, of a Devon lad and his beloved horse, is sentimental – there’s no denying that. But it is also a good story, which is very well acted, and whose skilful use of puppetry is simply breathtaking at times.

It is definitely a play for all ages – young and old alike. It is beautiful, sad, moving and clever. Albert comes across his horse, Joey, by accident as a result of his father’s drinking. He learns how to look after the thorough bred and the bond between them develops before the audience’s eyes. It does sound odd that you are so quickly taken in by the puppets. The horse is brought to life by two people inside it, with a third operating the head and doing the very authentic sound effects. I think the key to the way it draws you in is in the horse's eyes, which are very realistic, and in the movement itself, which is astonishingly good. Quite how the puppeteers keep up the illusion for the nearly three hour long performance is amazing.

Things take a turn for the worse when Joey is sold to the army and goes to fight in the First World War in the French mud. Albert, desperate to be with his beloved horse, lies about his age to sign up and go to fight and find him again. I won’t give away the ending. Suffice it to say there were many moist eyes at the end of the performance.

The high quality of the production by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, and the incredible brilliance of the Handspring Puppet Company in creating not only Joey, but other horses, a goose, crows and various inanimate objects that I won’t specify for fear of giving too much away is spectacular.

I know it is basically a sentimental story, aimed largely at families, but it was very good, very moving, and very clever, and this big kid enjoyed it immensely.

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