Guest Post 2: War Horse London

Theatre Breaks

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War Horse has been this weeks hot topic here at Superbreak Towers after we sent a group of our team to see the London show on Monday 7th January. Darren Neylon, our Marketing, E-Commerce and Commercial Director, was one of them and enjoyed the show so much he couldn’t resist sharing his ever-brilliant theatrical low-down…

The amazing interaction between Joey and another war horse on stage.
Darren was struck by the amazingly accurate equine mannerisms of the puppets.

I was really looking forward to going to this show with Superbreak as I had previously read Michael Morpurgo’s book (first published in 1982) and seen Steven Spielberg’s film (released in 2011), both of which I’d enjoyed immensely. The National Theatre adapted the book for the stage in 2007 before it transferred to the New London Theatre. The New London is a fantastic theatre for those wanting to get close to the action, evidenced by the 21-year run of ‘Cats’ at the same venue. It was great fun being in such close proximity to the actors, with some scenes spilling out into the audience at various points in the show.

War Horse revolves around Joey, a horse raised by Albert Narracott on a Devon farm, sold to the cavalry in World War 1, shipped to France and caught up in the war. It follows Albert as he sets out to find him.  The story offers a glimpse into the experiences of the one million hapless horses that were part of the World War 1 tragedy, apparently only 62,000 returned from the front.

Like everyone I’d spoken to beforehand, I was extremely curious as to how the cast would control the puppets and whether they would be ‘believable’. Once you get over the novelty of observing the working mechanics of the puppets and the three puppeteers (the cast playing the head, heart and hind of the puppet characters), you quickly found yourself viewing the puppets as real animals. It shouldn’t work but it really does.  Just like Geppetto did to Pinocchio, the Handspring Puppet Co. (founded in Cape Town S.A. in 1981) performed a magnificent job at bringing to life the wooden horses. It was the equine mannerisms that did it for me: the agitated breathing, the pricked ears constantly rotating to a new target, the shake of the mane, the twitch of the tail, the ripping of the grass while grazing and the ears back and head down when challenged, every detail expertly breathing life into the imposing horse characters. It wasn’t long before you were convinced that the puppeteers were normal strappers leading live horses around the stage. It was fascinating at the final bow when the puppeteers for the evening came on to take their bow, followed by the wooden horses themselves who were led on separately to receive a rapturous applause as though somehow they were their own individual characters!

With such a complicated and varied story line, moving from English farms to French battlefields, the stage designer, Rae Smith, did an excellent job with the cinematic back drop to the stage, poetically linking each scene with a 25 metre projection screen shaped as a page ripped from a sketchbook – this backdrop cleverly guided the audience’s imagination through the different phases of the story.

One of the aspects that sets War Horse apart from other big West End shows is the quality of the acting. Every cast member delivered a high quality, believable performance. Certain characters in particular provided important links between the various scenes. Luke Jerdy, playing Albert Narracott, was excellent and certainly enhanced the believability of Joey as a real horse. Rachel Sanders, as Albert’s mother Rose, was superb in providing the emotional link between the various pig-headed, male characters. Bob Fox, described as one of Britain’s most respected and internationally acclaimed folk singers, provided an eerie singing narrative at times between scenes.

This excellent story tugs the emotional heartstrings and appeals to young and old alike.  War Horse is a not-to-be missed theatrical experience and I’m very pleased to have it in Superbreak’s portfolio of London theatre breaks.

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