Saturday, 21 January 2012

War Horse by the National Theatre. Review.

Kate Colebrook as Emilie with the puppet stars
FORGET the film – go see the play.
The National Theatre’s gripping and devastating production saw many in the capacity audience rise to their feet as the curtain fell. Dozens were crying.
It has been many years since I have witnessed this in the West End.
The puppetry is brilliant and magical and clever lighting makes them almost real.
And the eerily accurate study in equine mannerisms is a huge credit  to horse choreographer Toby Sedgwick.
If the National Theatre’s production had stopped here, it would have had a sell-out show on its hands.
But Michael Morpugo’s book, from which this was adapted, takes it onto a sublime level.
This is the pain of war on the innocents.
The suffering is magnified through the prism of a child’s eye but is never mawkish or sentimental.
Stand-out performances include 21-year-old Jack Holden as Albert, the boy who loses his beloved horse Joey to the Western Front in World War I. He manages to portray a tender love which is as strong as steel. A difficult task artfully accomplished
Alex Avery as Captain Nichols plays the courageous, patriotic officer which was so typical of his generation but without falling into stereotype.
Robert Horwell’s performance as Sgt Thunder provides much needed comic relief, taking the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride from despair to belly-laughter in seconds.
And then there is Goose. The cantankerous puppet so amused the audience, it got a special cheer at the curtain call.
The direction of Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris has a light touch and we are never left feeling conned by the tug on our heart.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Morpugo discussing his work at the Hay Literature Festival.  He explained that as a war baby, the family tragedies, the fears, the uncertainty and violence in the skies above him had been seared into his frightened imagination.
In War Horse, he manages to unlock this fear and convert it into a childlike, un-jingoistic comment on war as serious as Sheriff’s Journey’s End and Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.
There will be nothing to outclass this show on the West End all year.

* War Horse is at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London WC2B 5PW and is booking until February 16, 2013.
For tickets and times, go here:


  1. War Horse is an exceptional film. But I do believe that this ToI review has been more generous to it that many Western critics. Although not commercially unsuccessful, this film is clearly not oriented towards non-artistic film goers. But even from an artistic point of view, the war-theme depicted has nothing to offer that other classics like Saving Private Ryan or No Man's Land haven't already done. The only refreshingly new scene in the movie was the (fictional) banter between a German and an English soldier engaged in freeing Joey, when he's stuck in the cross-fire. Fictional or not, Spielberg did manage to bring forth the (animal loving) human being behind the rifle triggers and bayonets, and for that he deserves credit. I loved the movie and so high rate it high. But no harm in expecting greater things from the greatest.