Warhorse started its journey at the National Theatre in 2007 and hasn’t stopped growing since. The acclaimed production, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for stage by Nick Stafford, uses incredible puppetry to bring the simple story of Joey the horse to life.
As a lover of all things horse I found this play totally mesmerising from start to finish – but perhaps more interestingly, so did my horse-indifferent partner who was at first resistant to watch a “bunch of puppets.”
From every twitching ear, stomping of hooves, whinny and neigh it was possible to really feel the fear, love, anger and pain
But this is no Punch and Judy show. The puppetry is totally brilliant and realistic, from every twitching ear, stomping of hooves, whinny and neigh it was possible to really feel the fear, love, anger and pain as Joey the horse did what was required of him.
Though the horse puppets undoubtedly steal the show the smaller puppets also provide some much needed humour, including the inquisitive and angry goose – which chases any visitors with fierce loyalty – only to have every door on stage slammed in his face.
The tale is a simple one, constructed around the backbone of a provincial country family and their struggle with everyday issues as the country enters into the First World War.
The story is initially based around teenager Albert Narracott (played by Thomas Dennis of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night fame) whose father buys a foal from market in a drunken effort to outshine his brother. Upon returning home he entrusts the foal to his son Albert – on the understanding that he will produce him to a standard that he will then be able to sell him on, and earn back some of the much-needed money he lost in his sale.
Albert’s father sells Joey to the army and the horse is conscripted to serve on the bloody Battlefields of France 1914
The bond that then builds between horse and boy is one few of us will experience and one which I felt privileged to be part of. The young horse faces every challenge put in his path and as a reward Albert is finally promised that he can keep the horse – though sadly his father’s word is not to be trusted.
With beer in hand Albert’s father sells Joey to the army for £100 and the horse is conscripted to serve on the bloody Battlefields of France 1914.
Albert, who at 16 is too young to enlist himself, is told by the army officer that he will be reunited with his loyal companion within months, but as the war drags on longer than anticipated he takes drastic action to find his beloved horse and signs up himself.
The journey that then continues highlights the raw suffering around one million horses endured after joining the war to fight for their humans. Warhorse not only reminds us of the horrors of the First World War but it also highlights our responsibilities towards the other animals involved in our bloody battles.
I won’t go into much detail about the outcome of Albert’s quest, as you might well be getting ready to go and see it yourself. But suffice to say this was an emotional and exciting journey and a show that never failed to deliver at any stage of the night.
It was breathtaking. It was also quite hard to watch in places – particularly for someone who is a confirmed horse fanatic like me. Be prepared for a rollercoast of a ride.
There was an emotional quiet as we left the theatre, and not a dry eye in the Brighton Centre. I got the feeling that many were surprised at the brilliance they had just witnessed from a “bunch of puppets.”