War Horse

Posted on: 02 January 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

An absorbing Second World War drama for adolescents and adults too.

The unspoken bond that develops between a young man and his beloved horse is movingly conveyed in Marianne Elliott and Thomas Morris' gripping production of War Horse, based on the celebrated novel by the former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo and currently packing them in to the NT's Olivier auditorium.

At the outbreak of World War I farmer's son Albert's horse Joey is sold by his father to the cavalry and shipped to France. He is soon caught up in enemy fire and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving both sides before finding himself alone in no man's land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

Although described as being suitable for 12-year-olds and over, this is far more than being a children's play, it is in fact a sweeping and involving drama of considerable power. As a study of love, loss and the brutality of war the play comes up trumps, being harrowing and joyous, sad yet funny.

Elliott and Morris direct a strong NT ensemble with standout performances by Luke Treadaway as Albert, Toby Sedgwick as his father, Thusitha Jayasundera as his mother and Jamie Ballard as an army major.

But the real stars of this show are the superlative puppets, marvellously manipulated by the South African puppet company Handspring that bring these life-size equine creatures so vividly to life. The atmosphere and sense of reality is further heightened by a live folk musician who adds a touch of poignancy.

Furthermore Rae Smith's evocative set inventively employs animated drawings on an elongated white backdrop that effectively sets the scenes such as the image of two skeletal, broken-backed horses pulling a machine gun, and two armed soldiers running towards us amidst the smoke and gunfire-conveyed by a blazing light of the battlefield.

In all then a truly awe-inspiring show that carries a real emotional charge.

Plays in repertory until 14th February 2008.

Box office: 020 7452 3000 or: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

By Laurence Green

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