- United Kingdom Critic
In British theatre, there is currently a very good variety of plays and musicals that are touring, plus an excellent selection within London's west end. One of the longest running productions currently, is Michael Morpurgo's cream of the war genre, War Horse, produced by the National Theatre. I had never seen the play, but luckily there is a new UK and Ireland touring production currently playing at Edinburgh's Festival theatre (18/04/18 - 12/05/18). So I thought I best experience this apparent sensation for myself. But the question is, does it live up to the hype?
The play is based on Michael Morpurgo's novel of the same name. It follows a horse, named Joey, as he develops from a foal on a farm to a horse inspiring soldiers on the battlefield of the great war. And in parallel, his owner, Albert, develops from a boy into a soldier.
The story is simply stunning and is one that is not propaganda for Britain, but a story that shows there is two sides to devastation. Nick Stafford transposes Morpurgo's work to stage, seamlessly. This is one of the best scripts in theatre. Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris direct this production, they strongly structure it with ingenious use of puppetry, sound, music, lighting, movement sequences and fast moving transitions from scene to scene.
With stunning songs by John Tams, breath-taking music by Adrian Sutton, terrifying sound by Christopher Shutt and brilliantly disorientating lighting by Paule Constable.
Rae Smith's design of the set is minimalistic, yet highly affective, towards the end of the first act, you feel like you are immersed in the battle of the Somme. Handspring puppet company's design of the horses, soldiers and other animals (including a hilarious goose) are simply staggering. It takes you round about 10 seconds before you start tripping, thinking there’s an actual horse on stage. Toby Sedwick's movement chorography is part of what makes this production stand out from any other piece of theatre as he brilliantly helps the actors transform the puppets into characters filled with life and hope for the audience.
This is ultimately an ensemble cast who flawlessly merge together to perform this production with so much energy and passion for the message this play is sending out.
There are a few notable performances, obviously the amazing performers (Joëlle Brabban, Kiran Landa, Elizabeth Stretton, Tom Stacy, Tom Quinn, Anna Chessher, Lewis Howard, Domonic Ramsden, Chris Charles, Lucas Button, Nicky Cross, Samuel Parker, Stephen Love, Sebastian Charles and Elan James) who controlled the horses, Joey and Topthorn. So much effort to make these beautiful creatures come to life.
Thomas Dennis portrays Joey's owner, Albert. I have seen Thomas play Christopher in The Curious Incident of the dog in the night-time in London, there was a certain energy, and alot skills I felt he had that just made him an extremely talented actor, as he nailed the character of Chris. And its exactly the same with his portrayal of Albert in War Horse, the journey we go on with this character is so realistic because of how he holds and develops the character.
And my final mention is Peter Becker as Friedrick Müller, the German general who walks away from his duties to help a French family. The audience sympathise and truly feel this character's journey thanks to Peter's portrayal. It is also one which is new to us as we are not used to seeing a story of despair from the German side from world war one, we are so used to just sympathising with our own soldier's stories that we forget our "enemies" lost millions too. Peter Becker's portrayal gave us hope in the tragedy of war because there was human like features in there and his intentions are clear plus reasonable. Peter Becker portrays this character's journey in a touching and awakening way.
There is so much I could say about this production. And none of that would be negative. In the centenary year of world war one, a production which symbolises why we do not need war is so relevant. And yet this production did it in a creative and stunning way. This production lives up go expectation and then some. I rate War Horse a very strong 5/5 stars.
You can see it from Wednesday 18th April - Saturday 12th May 2018 at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre. It's also touring the UK and Ireland, see below for details.