It’s 1912, and a young lad is lovingly raising a foal his father drunkenly bought at auction. The start of their relationship is fuelled by coincidence and, most importantly, luck; something that follows Albert and his beloved horse Joey through the next six years, from their little farm in Devon and onto the bloody battlefield of the Somme.
Michael Morpugo’s novel, War Horse, has been enchanting readers for decades, and since its adaptation to the stage over ten years ago it has been capturing the hearts of theatre-goers too.
This award-winning production is now touring the UK and bringing a phenomenal performance straight to people’s local towns across the country. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see War Horse at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, where it’s showing until Saturday 9th June 2018.
I’ll admit, I’ve already seen War Horse; back in 2011 I went to see it with my family on Armistice Day in London, which was incredibly poignant. So I had some idea about what I could expect. I could remember the general storyline, and that I was blown away by the performance the first time around, but I had forgotten the finer details, and so I was just as excited as I was the first time around as we took our seats and waited for the show to start.
War Horse tells the story of Albert Naracott and his beloved steed, Joey, who are torn apart at the start of World War I. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here; but I will say that this is a heartbreaking yet wonderful story of loyalty, friendship, and loss. It brings the horrors of the First World War back into our own hometowns, telling the story on a local and personal level that tugs at the heartstrings and dampens the cheeks. It is an exploration of what it is to be human.
The story is in itself wonderful, but it is the performance that makes this show truly magical. The puppetry of the horses is astoundingly realistic, to the point that I started to really believe that real horses were on stage (which sounds ridiculous, but honestly, I started to forget it was all man-made!).
Every single tiny movement was carefully crafted to give each puppet a true personality of its own; the puppeteers did an astounding job and are very, very talented. They truly brought Joey – and Topthorn – to life. What with this, and the fantastic transitions between sets – which are simple, yet effective, using light and projection to evoke changing times and locations – it is a true spectacle and a visual feast.
The cast is wonderful and perfectly selected, clever and full of character. Thomas Dennis as Albert Narracott is passionate and his connection to Joey is clearly genuine; Peter Becker as Friedrich Muller, William Ilkley as Arthur Narracott and Jo Castleton as Rose Narracott all stand out too, although – as is the mark of an incredible show – it’s very hard to pick individuals out.
Music is often one of my favourite parts of any theatrical experience and this show did not disappoint. After seeing it for the first time, my mum bought me the soundtrack on CD. As soon as the first notes began this time around, it all came flooding back to me, and tears came to my eyes.
At least half of the emotion of this performance comes from the score; it is simple and heartfelt and really reflects how the Everyman was thrown into the midst of chaos and bloodshed, unsuspectingly. This utterly beautiful music adds such depth to the production. When the voices of men sing a simple tune while facing almost certain death, it evokes emotion that not all theatre shows can achieve.
This is an incredible show; an education of the sorrow and loss of the First World War, and one lad and his horse. It is simply spectacular. War Horse will bring tears to your eyes and make your heart swell; it will surprise and delight with moments of joy; it will make you jump and gasp with shock and sadness, and it will never leave you.
This is an unforgettable show and one you should not miss if you have the chance to see it.
Book your tickets on the Mayflower Theatre website. The tour will then be heading to Salford, Cardiff, and Woking; view the whole list of tour dates online.
Sidenote: There was only one thing about my night that bothered me, but it wasn’t anything to do with the wonderful performance.
Throughout the whole show, there was rustling of packets and crunching of crisps like I had never heard in a theatre before, and it was so disappointing, distracting, and disrespectful to the cast. If you’re going to the theatre – especially to a poignant and moving show like this – please take silent snacks, and eat carefully! Don’t spoil the experience for everyone else.
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I was invited to review this performance, but as always all views are honest and completely my own.