The National Theatre’s acclaimed play War Horse has returned to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre as part of the show’s celebrated ten-year anniversary tour. Following eight record breaking years in London’s West End and a sell-out 2014 run in Edinburgh, War Horse will be performed at the Festival Theatre until Saturday 12th May 2018.
Based on the beloved novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse tells the stunning tale of friendship between Albert Narracott, a Devon farm-boy, and his spirited horse, Joey. The story takes us from rural Devon to the trenches of the First World War as we follow the separate pathways taken by Albert and Joey, demonstrating the horrors of conflict as well as the strength of their bond that ties them together.
The first time I saw War Horse was in London’s West End in 2012. It has stayed with me ever since and last night’s performance at Festival Theatre reminded me why that has been the case. The National Theatre’s production of War Horse is visually innovative, performed skilfully and the story is told poignantly, creating an experience that will be imprinted in the viewer’s memory and, in my opinion, remain close to the heart for years.
The creative use of staging is impressive and allows the audience to place themselves within the scene in seemingly simple but effective ways. The strip of sketchbook paper that hangs above the performers throughout is an imaginative technique that lets the scene expand further than the limits of the stage itself, while also informing the audience of location and timeline.
The lighting and physical theatre used throughout further demonstrates the intelligent and subtle changes of setting as the story jumps to new locations. Many of the props are minimal and simplistic but are brought to life by the ensemble cast who slickly stand in as fence posts or help clear the stage between scenes in a way that blends into the surroundings and does not distract attention. There is one moment in particular that combines the use of lighting and physical theatre during the first charge scene, where the fearful reality of the War is first felt. The sudden flashes of strobe lights against the dark portrays the battle, while the performers create extremely effective imagery by using slow motion, resulting in one of the most memorable instances in the show.
A cinematic atmosphere is created through the use of music, which is sometimes used as a score in the background and at other times is sung live by celebrated folk musician, Bob Fox. The music ties the narrative together as well as heightening the emotion of the scene, whether it is a calm countryside setting or a dramatic and frightening battle in no-man’s land.
The ensemble is filled with talented actors who depict a variety of characters that represent varying experiences within the War. Standouts include: Peter Becker as Friedrich Müller, who sensitively plays the sympathetic role of a deserting German captain who befriends and cares for Joey and Topthorn (another war horse), Toyin Omari-Kinch, who offered comic relief as Albert’s friend David as well as depicting the struggles of trench life, and Gwilym Lloyd and Jo Castleton who played Albert’s parents, Ted and Rose Naracott. Thomas Dennis as Albert shows great chemistry with the other performers and with Joey in particular. He convincingly portrays the change in Albert as he grows from an innocent boy into a soldier of war, becoming more desperate and cynical in an extremely moving performance.
War Horse cannot be mentioned, however, without the biggest praise going to the puppeteers. From the Goose, performed comically by Billy Irving, to the goose-bump inducing spectacles that are the horses, Joey and Topthorn, performed by twelve incredibly talented puppeteers (three for Joey as a foal, three for Joey fully-grown, and three for Topthorn), these performers steal the show and become, rightfully, the heart and soul of War Horse. They capture the true nature of a horse’s movements, reactions and behaviour perfectly that the audience soon forgets that there is a puppet and three mechanics onstage and begins to fully believe in the reality of the horses they see before them. I remember back in 2012 getting chills all over when Joey first appears as a full-grown hunter and, even though I knew what to expect this time, I had the same reaction once again last night (plus a pair of glassy eyes in awe of this spectacle)!
I left the theatre last night in a daze, completely smitten with Joey and overwhelmed with emotion (I admit it, I wept. A lot.). A beautiful storyline, creative staging and superb performances combine to make War Horse a memorable and incredible production that I highly recommend – and I suggest you bring some tissues!
Review by Kim Ford for Love Books Group
| Booking Information |
Wed 18 April to Sat 12 May 2018 | Festival Theatre
Duration: Approx. 2h40m (incl. 20m interval)