Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 15, 2020
Playwright: Nick Stafford (based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo)
Director: Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris
Images by Brinkhoff Mögenburg, Andrew Tauber
Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse features the life story of a horse named Joey, and his friendship with Albert, the young man with whom he shares an unbreakable bond. Sold off to a cavalry in World War I, Joey spends the wilderness years in hard toil, whilst Albert pines for his mate as he too, struggles in the trenches. Adapted by Nick Stafford, this stage version is cleverly balanced, to deliver both pathos and amusement, allowing a theatrical audience to indulge in an evening of nostalgic escapism.
War Horse is the paragon of immaculate stagecraft. All technical faculties are rendered in extraordinary ways, for a show best described as magical, from start to end. The very prerequisite of bringing to life a lead character that is not human, but a magnificent beast, means that all the tools for make belief, are activated in the most inventive and dynamic ways. The audacious and oversized puppetry involved in telling Joey’s story, is central to the enjoyment of the production, with up to six persons employed to animate one creature, often with multiple horses sharing the stage, for images that will stay with the viewer for years to come.
Although stridently sentimental, the show is not always a moving experience. It is however, endlessly fascinating, with a multitude of mechanical devices employed to tell an emotional story. Some may find themselves swept away with the innocent love portrayed in the piece, but most will be hopelessly captivated by the sheer ambition of the staging. Its scale is overwhelming, and the pleasure of feeling awestruck should never be underestimated.