Does War Horse live up to the hype and five star reviews? Surely a West End transfer, a merchandise stand complete with magnets, t-shirts and mugs, and a storyline to make the hardest of men shed a tear would be worth a praising review from A Younger Theatre? I wish it was true…
War Horse has been critically acclaimed since it touched audiences hearts at the National Theatre last year. The show quickly became sold out, and a highly anticipated West End transfer to the New London Theatre was made earlier this year.
And yet I was rather disappointed by the production.
There is no doubt that the puppets of the horses are crafted with such skill and are equally moved/mastered by extremely skilled puppeteers. The movement within these puppets, and the sheer size of them can be quite difficult to focus on at first.
Like any object manipulated into ‘life’, there is adjustment needed to both accept that there is someone control these bits of materials, and equally when you look beyond the manipulators that what you are seeing is ‘believing’ in the creature itself.
The horses are the closest looking things that we’re going to see of horses galloping around a West End stage anytime soon. They are lifelike, yet equally have a skilled puppet craft applied to them. So the horses are obviously not the problem within War Horse, and if anything, the puppetry within the piece as a whole is what drives the piece along but also gets the audiences into the auditorium in the first place.
What War Horse lacks is that of substance.
The story is a little thin on the ground, with moments that really could have been expanded, and equally moments that could quite have easily been cut. The connection between Joey the horse and it’s owner, the young lad Albert is lovingly nurtured within the production, and becomes a delight to watch. Yet other occassions within the piece I struggled to stifle my yawning. The rambling monologues from the German Captain seemed to drag the production into the depths of history.
War Horse is clearly a good production, especially with the level of skill from the puppeteers, and a notable performance from Kit Harington as Albert, leading the ensemble piece. Despite the five star reviews, and the hype surrounding War Horse, I failed to connect to the piece. It lacked something for me.
I think if anything it is more a personal connection than stating that this is a downright bad production. After all, one person may love a piece of theatre, and equally their friend may despise it. That is the very nature of arts and opinions. So this time, the National Theatre just didn’t pull it off for me.
Perhaps it goes back to my inability to relate to horses? Having never been up close to one more than once in my life, nor through having any desire to ride one… but surely that wouldn’t put me between what is an outstanding production and one that needs more work?
For me the emotional connection to the story was a start/stop affair. I wanted to enjoy this. I wanted to get lost within the magic of the various uses of puppetry onstage, and I wanted to be caught up in the emotive story of the first world war and the soldiers who lost their lives. But I didn’t, and this for me was the killer of heart and soul for War Horse. Others might have been crying and wiping their eyes at the end, but sadly I was trying not to laugh at whoever awful idea it was of having smoke billowing from either side of the stage and thus making a quarter of the audience blind to the action onstage during the second half.
However this isn’t all negative, and far from it. What Marianne Elliott and Tim Morris as directors have done is direct a show that brings into the main stream theatregoers eyes the use of full scale puppetry of high quality, allowing this artform to be more widely accessed. Also their simple stylistic approach to the play could be worth a note to some over-heavy productions seeking to represent every last bit of life on stage.
War Horse is well worth a visit, and with ticket prices seemingly dropping slightly, its worth spending a night engaging with horses made from an assortment of materials. Is the production child friendly though? Hmm… personally I wouldn’t take a young child along, not with its numerous methods of death and imagery of war wounded soldiers splattered across the stage…
War Horse … the five stars reviews, or the sagging storyline? You decide.
The New London Theatre is playing War Horse and booking until next year, 2010. Tickets can be found on the National Theatre website.