War Horse

I went to see War Horse at the New London Theatre in London’s West End on 6th August 2009. This was my first trip to the West End and therefore I was quite excited. After a quick lunch in McDonald’s on The Strand, we made our way across to the Theatre on Drury Lane. After receiving our tickets we made our way upstairs, stopping on the way to buy programmes and other merchandise before entering the large auditorium and taking our seats. It was obvious from looking around the theatre that wherever you sat in the theatre you would have a good view of the stage.         

The story is about a horse called Joey who is, after being brought up by a young boy called Albert Narracott and both becoming attached to the other, enlisted to become a horse in the English army during World War I. The story tells of Joey’s journey throughout the war as well as Albert’s journey to get Joey back.           

Joey is made through the use of puppetry and is guided by three of the cast who play their part brilliantly; keeping their head’s down the entire time so that they are less noticeable and are able to show the horse’s emotions clearly without thinking about what else is going on. The work that had gone into the choreography with the horse was extensive and this was shown especially during the battle scenes and shows just how much work and effort had gone into producing the play which is an adaptation of the novel by Michael Morpurgo.

Puppetry is also used for the birds which are flown on long sticks by cast members running through the audience, as well as the others horses, and the duck, who in my opinion was the best character in the show, providing some perfectly constructed comedy moments when the duck is trying to escape from the stables and when he chases after the intruders. The work that went into making the puppets is clear and this is not lost on the audience who were all clearly impressed with the effort and skill that had gone into the production of the show.  

Apart from the horses and those controlling the puppets, the actors were also very skilled in their profession, however there were some disappointing features to their portrayal of their alter-egos. Bronagh Gallagher who plays Albert’s Mother, I felt often came across as false and she seemed to put too much into her acting that it was obvious that the character wasn’t real. Furthermore, Kit Harington who plays Albert Narracott, put on an accent which often made it very difficult to understand what he was saying and grew increasingly more annoying and grating throughout the performance, which resulted in me often waiting eagerly for him to go off stage again, however his acting was skilful and entertaining so this often outweighed his performance. 

In addition the use of the moving circular stage added dynamics to the play, especially when those on the stage were frozen while another part of the story was going on, and this part of the stage would revolve as if in pause, waiting for the story to come on, which I thought was cleverly done, especially as the set itself had very little in the way of props. Also the backdrop which provided animation helped the audience understand where in time each bit of the play was set and where, although this was able to distract the audience from the main play at times, it was cleverly used. 

While the storyline itself had some interesting turns which could be quite intriguing, it was not a typical show that I enjoy, and so I didn’t enjoy the play itself as much as I could have done, which was nothing to do with the actors or the puppetry but the story itself. I felt some of the story was quite far fetched but this does come from the story originally being aimed at children. However even though I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I’d hoped to, the majority of the audience seemed to think it was excellent, many standing and clapping at the end.  

Overall, as a first experience to the West End, the show was good, but not to my tastes, however I would recommend it, especially to children as an introduction to the theatre, as it is an aesthetically pleasing and an easily understandable storyline. Looking back on the show I feel the actors performed as well as they could and you were able to sympathise with the members of the enemy, especially during Patrick O’Kane’s performance who played Kavallerie Hauptmann Friedrich Müller, and helped, children especially, realise that the German soldiers were in the same position as the English soldiers. While I didn’t especially enjoy the play, I was fascinated by the puppetry and was impressed as to the amount of hard work that went into creating them. And for me, the duck completely stole the show!