The National Theatre’s War Horse galloped in all its splendour into Curve last week. The production is based on the 1980s novel by Michael Morpurgo, who originally denounced a stage adaptation of his masterpiece as an act of madness (but thankfully was very wrong).
Adapted by Nick Stafford and presented in association with the award-winning Handspring Puppet Company, this is a masterful piece of pure, unadulterated artistry.
War Horse tells the story of young Albert (Scott Miller) and his beloved horse, Joey. After spending years devotedly raising Joey against the backdrop of pre-war British countryside, they are forcibly parted when his father sells Joey to the cavalry. Making a sworn promise to find Joey and bring him home, Albert eventually signs himself up voluntarily for the war and begins his quest.
Representing the millions of horses who served during the fire and fury of the Great War, War Horse highlights that the heroes at the front weren’t only the ones in uniform. It also focuses on the beautiful friendships gained along the way – not only between Albert and his comrades but also between Joey and Topthorn and many others.
Nick Stafford’s play is now in its 12th year, but it’s as fresh and vibrant as I imagine it was the night it opened. There’s a certain kind of magic among the cast and creatives in War Horse that I’ve never before seen on stage. Sheer passion flows off the boards and into the auditorium and there isn’t a single aspect that isn’t flawless. It’s an unforgettable masterpiece that pushes the possibilities of theatre further than you ever thought possible.
The casting is so perfect across the board that it’s hard to believe the roles weren’t created specifically with them in mind. Scott Miller plays young, naïve and yet fiercely kind and loyal Albert impeccably – he’s spellbinding in the role, and the relationship between Albert and Joey is one of the most authentic and beautiful relationships I have seen on stage.
Natalie Kimmerling is charming as Emilie, and Jo Castleton’s wonderful performance as Albert’s mother will likely bring a tear to some audience members, playing opposite Colin Connor who plays Albert’s cowardly father fantastically.
Several cast members turn their hands flawlessly to several characters, such as Kenton Thomas, Clive Keene, Charlie Tighe, Gareth Radcliffe, Danny Hendrix and Christopher Naylor. Special mention to Jonathon Cobb, because the goose provided much needed comic relief and genuinely was laugh out loud funny.
I’m not sure how I can summarise how incredible the puppeteers are. I found myself watching in amazement frequently throughout the show. It’s mesmerising to watch how these talented indivuals (Kofi Aidoo-Appiah, Rianna Ash, Zoe Halliday, Khalid Daley, Tom Quinn, Samuel Parker, Mark Matthews, Kiran Landa, Andrew Keay, Elizabeth Stretton) manage to breathe such realistic life into these puppets. It sounds daft to say, but it really does feel like you’re watching a horse. The fact that there are actors purely dedicated to playing the heart of the horse (Lewis Howard, Michael Jean-Marain, Domonic Ramsden, Alex Hooper) demonstrates the level of complexity that this production attains.
There aren’t enough stars in the world a reviewer can give to do this production justice. Both breath-taking and heart wrenching, I promise you won’t be able to stop thinking about it (I know I haven’t).
Playing at Curve until 12 October, this is definitely one to catch while its still in town.
Reviewed by Rosie Bambury
Photo: Brinkhoff Mögenburg
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