Writer: Michael Morpurgo
Adaptor: Nick Stafford
Director: Marianne Elliott &Tom Morris
Reviewer: Laura Hesketh
“I promise I won’t hurt you…I never will.”
Since 2007, the National Theatre’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s stunning novel War Horse has been mesmerising audiences – and it is not hard to see why. The famous portrayal of Joey the horse using superb puppetry is the biggest appeal for many audiences, however the production also offers a heart-wrenching story about a boy, his horse and the suffering of the Great War.
Nick Stafford’s powerful adaptation is brimming with hope and reasons for admiration; it is clear from the astonishingly life-like puppets why the production is one which has been a favourite among audiences. The moment when Joey magically transforms from a young and vulnerable foal to a powerful and rearing horse is especially poignant, and proves that skilled and masterful puppetry can evoke emotion from an audience of all ages; the journey of the life-sized Joey plays on the heartstrings and the movement of the creature is beautifully recreated. Joey is a horse with substance and soul, and a rightful hero for Morpurgo’s Great War story.
Audiences are captivated by the relationship between Joey and Albert as the production touchingly captures the mysterious relationship between animal and human; such affection between two species is made more powerful by the death and conflict between humans which haunts the piece throughout. Lee Armstrong holds his own as the loveable Albert Narracott, and he is supported by a strong cast who bring humour and raw emotion to the stage, as audiences are transported from a small Devon village to the front line. Intermixed throughout the beautiful score by Adrian Sutton are folk songs, mainly performed by Bob Fox; such songs give the production a unique edge in narrating the internal monologues of characters, as well as hauntingly foreshadowing events to come.
The puppetry not only aids the production in portraying Joey as a heroic horse, it is also the perfect tool to reflect the horrors of the Great War; as a tank moves threateningly towards the front of the stage, audiences gasp with shock and fright at the ominous object. With 2014 marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, it is apt that the imaginative production of War Horse continues to portray the futility of conflict and the massive sacrifice made by so many. The production succeeds in exposing the heartache which existed on both sides of the trenches, as both the English and Germans are portrayed with profound humanity.
The uniquely moving spectacle is guaranteed to leave audiences awe-struck, and Michael Morpurgo’s emotional story is brought to life in a heart-stopping production. War Horse is a production which the National Theatre should be hugely proud of, and the triumphant piece of theatre encapsulates the horror of war, but emphasises that sometimes it is worth risking your life for the ones you love, whether they have two legs or four.
Runs until 14th February 2015 | Photo Ellie Kurttz