Following its sold out run in 2017, The National Theatre’s War Horse is back on tour, with a first stop at Canterbury’s The Marlowe Theatre. It’s a sweeping drama expertly delivered, and well deserved the tears that fell in the audience.
The story, about a boy in World War I’s relationship with his horse at home and on the front line is described as an ‘anthem for peace’ by Michael Morpurgo. But it’s not just peace at war, but peace at home on the Narracott’s farm, peace between our hero (of the human variety) Albert’s parents, peace in the father Ted’s mind as he tries to stop drinking, and peace in Albert’s heart when he meets and follows Joey, the horse that steals the show – and hearts. For a simple children’s story, War Horse packs a big punch.
The puppetry by the Handspring Puppet Company remains incredible. Braying horses with beating hearts seem real. Joey has a personality that overshadows the fact he is a puppet of wood and paper and held by visible puppeteers. The lighting by Paule Constable is brilliant, with the eerie shadows of war and comforting glow of home being played out on stage, and Christopher Shutt’s sound is subtle and sinister. Moving from scene to scene through the sketches of Captain James Nicholls is cleverly done through designer Rae Smith’s projected notebook.
It’s a sentimental production that is never schmaltzy, a tender portrayal that tugs at the emotions. Deeply moving and expertly executed, it’s a tale for all ages – and all times.
War Horse is at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 16 March 2019.
Photos by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg.