Invigorating, thrilling and captivating to watch, it is no surprise Warhorse has had to increase its run at The New London Theatre this year. Capturing the flavour of Steven Spielberg’s movie adaption, yet adding in a further level of precision and drama to make it more palpable for the stage. However, as one might think, the puppetry totally overshadows the storyline and in true fact makes it more gripping to watch. The puppetry being put into practice on stage is like watching a professional masterclass, to the point where one is entranced by the mechanics and skill at which the horse is alive and breathing. Whether a horse lover or not one can appreciate the detail at which the animal is moving, eating and (not to sound too cliché) feeling.
Set around the devasting beginnings of WW1, the plot follows Joey, the loyal yet stubborn stallion, who is bought and brought up in a small Devonshire village. Maturing and growing close to the young yet somewhat foolish Albert, a farmer’s son who is devoted to Joey and his well-being. Of course however problems arise overseas and Joey is eventually sold off to the British army to join the cavalry fighting in German occupied Belgium. Albert, who is unaware of this, is shocked by the news and as a result (later in the piece) travels to Belgium at the meagre age of 16 to find and recover his prize stallion from the horrors of the battlefield. Joey must face head to head conflict with the enemy, watch his fellow ‘horse friend’ Topthorn die suddenly and even come into close contact with a formidable battle tank. Although hurt and damaged by the elements of war Joey is still alive and kicking fighting for survival as one can sense even from a puppet. Ending with Joey getting caught in the dreaded wires of no-man’s land and requiring both sides to call a truce and save this dying animal from harm. Slightly comedic as both soldiers do not understand what each other are saying and try desperately to mime their thoughts. A sign of unity on both sides in a battle that has taken a lot of unnecessary life.
A particular moment of beauty for any audience member is however the reunion between Albert and Joey at the end of the production. Young Albert, although blinded by tear gas, senses his long lost stallion is near and does his all famous whistle to call the animal to him and therefore bring the two back together again. Seeing how far our two protagonists have come from their humble beginnings and what the effects of war have had on them as individuals creates an emotional storyline for the piece.
As previously mentioned however, the puppetry is outstanding! Although repeating myself again, it is truly not respected highly enough until you have seen the piece with your own eyes. The growth from the limp like horse at the beginning of the production which is then stripped away to reveal a staggering large stallion afterwards is done with great care and efficiency. The set design also works nicely to complement the piece scenographically with a ragged strip of white screen paved across the back of the stage to display projections and create an atmosphere for the battle scenes. As is the rather comedic use of the goose drawn around the stage by a puppeteer who is not shy to let out a great squawk when the time permits.
I believe my only small critique is that the puppetry is so impressive the story lacks in importance as a result, opposed to being considered with greater care and attention. However, it is undeniable the piece has flare, excitement and above all else precision, which one can only appreciate as a spectator. Warhorse truly has brought the art and style of puppetry to the mass market and is definitely worth catching before the run ends in March. 3.5/5
Review written by Luke Redhead.
Warhorse is currently showing at the New London Theatre until Saturday 12th March. For more information on the production, visit here…
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