Returning to Australia is War Horse, the smash hit and Tony award winning music drama from the National Theatre of Great Britain. Originally based on a best selling novel written in 1982 by Michael Morpurgo, the play has a fairly even mix of performers on stage where about half are human characters and half are puppeteers for the extraordinary life size puppets created by the Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa.
It’s clear much time and attention has been spent studying the mannerisms and behaviour of the animals (horses and a comical goose) to provide realistic reactions from subtle nuzzling through to charging at a gallop. (Whoever would have thought that horses’ ears could express so much.) Wonderful puppeteer work that is rarely seen on the big stage. The program lists all performers alphabetically so even the principal roles get no extra attention.Continue reading WAR HORSE @ THE LYRIC THEATRE→
The magnificent play, WAR HORSE, takes us along on a mesmerising journey of compassion, grief, love and cruelty.
The 32 scenes which structure the play begin in August 1912, in Devon, England and travel through Calais, France in 1915, the Somme valley in 1916 and finish back in Devon in November 1918. It is not a play about war, but about survival.
The protagonist, Joey, is not only a horse, but a puppet, which must be seen and experienced on stage to realise its full impact. Three puppeteers operate Joey, (and the other horses) who becomes so life-like, that you forget the puppeteers are there. Joey’s head, in particular, expresses his shyness, fear, pride and joy through endearing, piercing eyes.
Created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company (with Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler), the horses are strong enough for men to ride and “bring breathing, galloping, charging horses to life on stage. They traverse the stage, their flanks, hides and sinews built of steel, leather and aircraft cables”. The movement and horse choreography has been brilliantly created by Toby Sedgwick.
Joey is the horse of a boy named Albert, played with great warmth and humour by Cody Fenn. Much to Albert’s dismay, his father sells Joey to the cavalry at the outbreak of World War 1 and he is shipped to France. Albert begins a quest to reunite with Joey, taking him to the battlefields of France.
The set, designed by Rae Smith, is clever, elegant and sparse. The actors hold wooden railings to form horse-yards and an ocean liner, whilst the above graphics and video (Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer) represent the land through which the horses gallop and the explosions of war. Wonderful English ballads are sung throughout the play, accompanied by piano accordion.
The play defies clichés about war, concentrating on relationships that are formed under such bleak circumstances.
The vulnerability prevalent in animals, is the centre of this emotional tug of war.
WAR HORSE is definitely not to be missed. It runs at the Lyric Theatre, Star City, Sydney, until Sunday 12th May, 2013.