War Horse (UK Tour) – Review

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War Horse: Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Reviewed 27th February 2019

★★★★★

 

The National Theatre’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s moving book War Horse is currently touring the UK. Having already enjoyed 8 record-breaking years in London’s West End and having played in 11 countries around the world the new UK tour means even more people can experience the emotional story for themselves. At the outbreak of World War One Alberts beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the Cavalry. Having grown up with Joey and developed such a strong bond Albert cannot forget his beloved horse and embarks on a dangerous mission to find him and bring him home.

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Visually stunning, this production has the ability to draw the audience in and leave them breathless. The outstanding puppets by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company are quite literally astonishing. The ability to bring life-size horses to life onstage is mesmerising. The actors controlling the horses enable even the most sceptical audience members to fully believe that the horse standing on stage is real. Every detailed movement the horse makes from swishing its tail to breathing is controlled perfectly. The puppeteers themselves are extremely talented and become the horse themselves as they take on the horse’s emotions and control its most intricate of movements. The captivating story is brought to life through these spectacular puppets which truly do become living, breathing animals in front of you.

The set, designed by Rae Smith, is also imaginative and ingenious. Relying on simple props and set pieces the stage does not feel cluttered and yet is amazingly detailed. The digital screen on which maps, drawings and locations are displayed is used brilliantly. The use of the digital display enables the audience to fully understand where the action is taking place and adds even further to the emotion and tension of the storyline. The choice of using mostly natural browns, blacks and whites is superb to show the starkness of war and works particularly well during the tense second act. The use of the bright red poppies during one scene is also a lovely touch, helping to remember those who lost their lives during the war. Lighting by Paule Constable is fantastic. Simple white lights used in numerous ways allows full focus to be on the characters, storyline and of course, the outstanding puppets. Dramatic lighting to show the panic on the field, gunfire and the use of darkness also helps to create an anxious atmosphere throughout the show. In addition the use of folk-style songs and music by Adrian Sutton and John Tams further adds to the overall production and helps remind us that these were just young men, husbands, sons from villages and towns all over England. The songs are rousing and fit completely with the script and direction.

The emotional storyline is gripping and hard-hitting. Most audience members can relate to the story in some way and there are few dry eyes in the auditorium at the end of the show. It is a show which tugs on your heart strings from the very beginning and draws you in from the first sight of Joey on stage. At points the audience can be heard holding their breath and the audible gasps and tears go to show what an amazing piece of art this production is. Theatre can touch people in so many ways and War Horse reminds us of not only the past, what people gave up for our lives now but also the connections we all have with others; humans and animals.

The touring cast are incredible. Every member of the cast is committed and clearly passionate about their role in the show. With cast members often taking on various roles throughout the show every inch of detail has been thought of and each talented member of the cast gives an unforgettable performance. William Ilkley gives an outstanding performance as Albert Narracott. The emotion shown onstage is tangible throughout the production. His ability to show Albert’s journey from a young, enthusiastic 16 year-old to a young man literally fighting for his life whilst trying to save the one thing that he loves more than the world is stunning to watch. Christopher Naylor’s Friedrich Müller shows us what life in the war, for either side, may have been like and his portrayal of the German is honest and gripping. Natalie Kimmerling must also be mentioned for her fantastic performance as the young French girl Emilie. The large cast truly give an emotive and heart wrenching performance in every way meaning that the audience cannot take their eyes away from the stage.

Mesmerising and emotional War Horse is a complete spectacle. It is captivating and astounding. The combination of a superb plot; believable, honest characters and visually impressive puppets and puppeteering creates a remarkable piece of theatre. This unforgettable production takes the audience on a magical journey by its phenomenal inventiveness and powerful story. A production not to be missed – do not hesitate to see this emotion-driven show!

 

War Horse is playing at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury until the 16th March 2019. For information and tickets click here. It continues to tour the UK until the 12th October 2019 until it returns to London for a strictly limited run. For information and other venues click here.

Photo Credit: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

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