There has been so much buzz leading up to the stage production of War Horse, I knew it was one that would be worth seeing. This all-Canadian cast has created one of the most memorable stage experiences ever. It’s mesmerizing and spirited in so many ways!
The story is based on the novel written by Michael Morpurgo about a boy, Albert (Alex Furber), who’s parents gave him the task to raise a foal that his drunken father had foolishly purchased at an auction. A trusting bond is formed between horse, Joey (Brad Cook, Bryan Hindle, Caden Douglas) and the boy, but in a crushing moment his father sells the horse to the British army. We are taken through the trenches with Albert who is too young to be enlisted but manages to be recruited into the army at the naive age of 16. His sole reason for joining is to be reunited with his beloved horse, Joey. We follow Albert’s quest and his emotional determination during this difficult time in history. Joey has his own journey that unfolds as well which makes this story even more heart-wrenching.
The re-creation of the horses in this production lives up to the hype. Masterfully engineered wooden creatures come to life by extremely talented “puppeteers”. Clearly the performers have immersed themselves into every living breathing movement of the majestic horses. Every trot and gallop is realistic and made with great expression.
Each horse requires three puppeteers to make it come alive. I was very interested in how they would cast such a group…dancers? actors? cirque performers? I can feel the power of their concentration – incredibly peaceful and methodic. Although they are working the machinery, at some point, I’m not sure when, they became one with the horse. The movements are so in sync I realized just how incredible their practice has been. Absolutely amazing!
The horses and other animals were created by the award-winning Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. Each horse limb was like a wooden prosthetic for the performer with joints and moving gears. To see each movement is a work of art. You truly witness the performers taking on the personality of each horse and releasing all emotions into their craft, yet it’s all so believable you almost forget they are moving by human touch.
Is it suitable for children? The recommended age is 10 and up. The story is based on war time and it would be wise to have a discussion prior to seeing the show. I say this thinking of my 12 year old son (who I think I should go back to see this with) who would have many questions. If you go on the website there are resource guides for learning that may be of interest and would be suitable for grade 6 and up.
There are scenes of bloodshed (visual on screens) and sounds of explosions and gunshots but it’s also nicely balanced with moments of light humour. The music is crisp and haunting at times. The show runs 3 hours with an intermission and I felt it was a very well-paced show that left me wishing it wouldn’t end!
It’s definitely worth seeing! Bring the tissues!
War Horse is on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre
Visit www.mirvish.com for ticket information.
*Additional early shows have been added for March Break.
Just released is the extension of the production with additional shows that will start going on sale on Monday, March 5th for performances through September 30, 2012.
In addition to the show, The Canadian War Museum has provided a historical mini-exhibition. Over 30 of the Museum’s First World War-era calvary and veterinary artifacts are on display in the corridors of the Princess of Wales Theatre. Families should take the time to see the artifacts as it really ties in well with the show.