Music: Adrian Sutton
Writer: Michael Morpurgo
Songs: John Tams
Drawings and artwork: Rae Smith
Conductor: David Angus
Narrators: Michael Morpurgo, Juliet Stevenson
Performed by: Orchestra of Opera North, St Peter’s Singers
Reviewer: Rich Jevons
Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse has been seen in both theatre and film to great success, not to mention being a best-seller. But War Horse: The Story in Concert could be argued as being a deeper and more profound experience.
It begins with Devon at Peace, setting a scene of rural bliss, introducing the horse Joey in a painting from the First World War. The early anthem Only Remembered is a nostalgic reverie. The horse sale leads to Albert and Joey being connected with an idyllic and symbiotic relationship.
There is a bet as to whether Joey is up to ploughing a field but he demonstrates his skill and the bet is on Albert’s father’s side as described in the chorus’ Rolling Home. But as war breaks out, Joey is taken to be sold to the army and, although Albert wants to go with his beloved friend he is too young to sign up, but vows to find Joey in good time.
The orchestral and vocal accompaniments give a sense of foreboding in Crossing the Channel and The Wounded when both men and their horses experience for the first time the misery and pain that is the reality of war.
In Forward, Joey and his new horse friend Topthorn charge into the blinding light coming from the death rattle of a machine gun. Eventually, it seems that the Allied Forces win the battle, but this feels somewhat futile with the piles of bodies all around.
Joey is then assigned to Trooper Warren and thus ensues a Second Charge into the thick of the enemy. This is depicted in martial orchestration but then gives way to Emilie’s Theme, where Joey finds kindness on a French farm.
It is not long though before Joey is taken back to war where he joins a ‘gun team’ and is shacked up with Friedrich, who has his own lilting and gentle theme. The melancholy reaches a peak at Topthorm’s death and Joey has an awful night at the side of his friend, despite his own wounds.
In No Mans’ Land, Joey finds himself caught between two lines of barbed wire. Then one German and one Welsh soldier comes out to meet him each with a white flag. They toss a coin to see who is allowed to lead the horse back to their trench.
We hear a Devonshire Carol and then the reprise of Only Remembered a moving finale.
Both Morpurgo and Stevenson are excellent in their various roles and Ben Murray excels too. As to be expected, Orchestra of Opera North and St Peter’s Singers deliver the goods with ease and are truly terrific in bringing the narrative into a new and perfect realm.
Reviewed on 25 November 2018 | Image: Contributed