War Horse, New Theatre Oxford | Review

Friday, 15 December 2017

War Horse
New Theatre Oxford 
Reviewed on Wednesday 13th December 2017 by Donna Meredith 

I came to this production having read the Michael Morpurgo novel, on which this adaptation by Nick Stafford is based, several times with my children.  I relished the prospect of finally getting to see how this beloved story would translate from the page to the stage, and how the characters of Joey and Topthorn in particular would be brought to life in puppetry.

Since its premiere on 17th October 2007 War Horse has been mesmerising audiences across the world and I now know why. This 10th Anniversary tour is made more poignant by its timing following the recent 100 year anniversary of armistice day.

The production depicted the extraordinary and deeply moving story of the relationship between the central character, Albert Narracott played by the superb Thomas Dennis, and his beloved horse, Joey. 

On one hand, the tale of a young man’s unwavering quest to find his adored horse after it was requisitioned for the WW1 war effort. On another, this tells the story of how horses were used and sacrificed in huge numbers on the French battlefields.

Alberts quest to be reunited with Joey takes us on a journey as he enlists and goes off to war. The reality of war is brought to life on stage to dramatic effect, the sound effects and imagery at times alarming in their honesty and intensity. The stirring music and songs, alongside the visual imagery projected on stage add to the powerful impact.

We see how relationships develop both on the home front and on the bloody battlefields  and how the war effects different characters. A poignant example is the friendship between Friedrich Muller played by Peter Becker and young Emilie played by Joelle Brabban.  As the horrors of battle take their inevitable toll on Muller we see him lose his grip on reality and develop an almost childlike quality.

However the standout stars of the show, in my opinion, are the Handspring Puppet Company who bring amazing puppetry and skill to the stage. To describe the horses as 'puppets' doesn't do justice to how amazing they are. Even with the puppeteers in full view of the audience, the horses appear 'real'. They come to life before you, galloping, charging, breathing . I was immersed in the story and the realism of what was portrayed on stage.

Complex, intense and disturbing yet gentle and moving in equal measure. I would recommend this wonderful production to theatre goers of all ages. A enduring story of humanity and friendship and a timely reminder of the futility of war and the sacrifices made by those that have gone before us. 

War Horse runs at the New Theatre Oxford until 6th January 2018.


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