04 November 2008

War Horse - National Theatre - Tuesday 3rd November 2008


At the outbreak of World War One, Joey, young Albert's beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. he's soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man's land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

Detailing the making of the puppets, and audience reactions: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=trIFlkJBFhw

I know a couple of people who have seen this show, and each of them advised taking a goodly supply of handkerchiefs to mop up the tears that would undoubtedly flow. And yet, for the very vast majority of the time, I sat there strangely unmoved. Absorbed by and interested in the story, yes; but weepy, no. “Stuff and nonsense”, I thought. And then, for the last two minutes or so, my eyes were clouded over completely and the tears ran down my face; the story, quite wisely, had saved the greatest emotional punch for the very last moment. It crept up quietly and with subtlety, and I’m still not quite sure how it managed to sneak up on me, as like most people in the audience, I had been preparing for it ever since the beginning.

To be fair, there were a number of things about this that I didn’t like. The script was, at times, quite clunky, and allowed the mechanics of the plot to show through. There was a long section in Act 2 where the dialogue was delivered either in a mismash of French and German or in ‘Allo ‘Allo accents, during which I managed to follow the basics of the plot development but missed out on a lot of the finer detail necessary for a complete understanding. Some poor diction during this section didn’t help matters (although I suppose that having a seat right at the back of the stalls perhaps contributed), neither did the very thick Oi Be Drinkin’ Zoider accent affected by Kit Harrington The colour-blind casting policy of the National made for a very jarring and historically completely inaccurate dischord in the appearance of Curtis Flowers as a black WW1 cavalry officer. Bronagh Gallagher’s strange accent, which wandered throughout the British Isles and eventually stuck on Craggy Island was disconcerting, particularly when her character invited another in for “a coup of taay” – all that was missing was “oh, g’wan, g’wan, g’wan”. And there was one awful moment for the entire audience (admittedly unpreventable) when an apologetic Stage Manager scuttled onto the stage and announced that there had been a technical problem and that there would be a halt in the performance until such time as it could be fixed - you could feel the tension level rise close to breaking point as everyone sat there in agonised expectation.

The stars of the show, undoubtedly, had either webbed feet or hooves, and deservedly took the audience by storm. Its practically impossible to describe with any accuracy how these were portrayed on stage – “puppets” just isn’t the right word, neither is “machines”. The Goose, for instance, was of the push-along variety with its feet portrayed as spokes on a small wheel underneath it, yet was so realistically operated/animated/controlled that it seemed like a living, breathing thing, embued with life and a character all its own. Its constant attempts to get through the farmhouse door were a running theme of the plot, and putting the man operating it in a woolly bobble hat was a stroke of genius – somehow this made the characterisation even sharper. Deservedly, The Goose got a round of applause to itself. It sounds daft to applaud structures of wood and metal, operated by humans, but the audience went completely wild when the “horses” took their bows. So skilfully had these been designed and operated, that from the very first appearance of Joey as a gangling foal, all spindle legs and awkward gait, that I found myself increasingly unaware (decreasingly aware?) of the humans operating the horses and only able to see them as living, breathing and indeed sentient creatures, each with their own character. It really is quite impossible for words to describe the effect that these wood and metal structures had on me and how, knowing they were only puppets, they had me sitting on the edge of my seat and willing the story on towards a happy ending.

Beg, lie, cheat or steal to get a ticket to see this show. And for god's sake take a handkerchief.
What the critics said (about the original run last year of this):


Anonymous said...

your wrong about not liking this it was fabulous and heart wrenching

rtb said...

Can I just point out that I did enjoy this show - which would have been apparent had you read the review properly. However, there were some things I didn't like about it, and I reserve my right to do so if I choose.

Once again, I have to point out to contributors to this blog the heading - which states that these are my own uninformed opinions.