It’s all been a little crazy here in the Friend-Bartlett household; we got married (woop!) and dealt with much much snow, and rebooked our mini-moon to Amsterdam in the last seven days. So Helena headed on down to the New Theatre, Oxford to check out the latest production of War Horse which is now on tour across the country.
Having seen the National Theatre’s spectacular production of War Horse in the West End many years ago, I was excited to hear it was coming to Oxford’s New Theatre as part of its tenth-anniversary celebration tour. With serious critical acclaim, War Horse has been seen by over seven million people worldwide and racked up 25 awards including the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway.
Anna Chessher, Chris Charles & Samuel Parker (Joey), Tom Quinn, Dominic Ramsden & Nicky Cross (Topthorn). Photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff
I remember being completely transfixed by the incredibly life-like horse puppets and the touching storyline from children’s author Michael Morpurgo. Centered around the remarkable relationship between a young farmer, Albert, and his horse, Joey, the story tells of the shattering of their idyllic West Country life by the outbreak of World War One in 1914.
When Albert’s father sells Joey to a cavalry officer, a heartbroken Albert – too young to enlist – vows to track Joey down, and bring him home again.
Thomas Dennis (Albert) & Joey. NT War Horse Tour 2017-2018.
Photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff
As Albert and Joey are separated, but both caught in the fighting in France, the play switches between their journeys; and portrays the true horror of war.
The staging, although simple, is incredibly effective. The hung backdrop, resembling a torn page of an artist’s sketchbook with beautiful projected animation, brings the audiences through the action, from the fields of Devon to the stormy sea, and the barbed-wired battlefields of war.
Tom Quinn, Domonic Ramsden & Nicky Cross (Joey) & Tank. NT War Horse Tour 2017-2018.
Photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff
But it’s the life-sized puppets which are undoubtedly the stars of the show, each animated and controlled by several, incredibly skilled actors listed in the programme as each animal’s ‘head’, ‘heart’ or ‘hind’. The horses move and mimic as if entirely real – each snort, stamp, flick of the ears, and flap of wings (yes, there are birds too!) is so life-like. Whenever they were on stage, I really could have just watched them and nothing else; they were as enchanting, if not more so than the first time I saw the show.
Billy Irving (Goose) & Joey. NT War Horse Tour 2017-2018.
Photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhof
They are surrounded by a wonderfully talented ensemble too – Thomas Dennis (fresh from his Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time role, reviewed here) brought a tender youthfulness to Albert, while Bob Fox’s soft voice seamlessly weaves the changing scenes of the story together with Adrian Sutton’s folk score.
Ensemble (Soliders line up). NT War Horse Tour 2017-2018. Photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff
With not one, but two standing ovations on its opening night at the New Theatre – this multi-award- winning production is not to be missed. It’s incredibly poignant (though there is laughter too), thought-provoking, and ultimately uplifting.
With thanks to ATG for the tickets and looking after us! War Horse is showing at Oxford New Theatre until 6th January 2018, then continuing on tour.