Saturday, 27 December 2008

Theatre of war

An outing today to see the National Theatre's celebrated adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse.

Beginning in Edwardian Devonshire, the play follows the linked fortunes of Albert, a farmer's son, and his beloved horse Joey, both of whom are called to serve king and country in the horrors of the Great War.

Working with the remarkable South African Handspring Puppet Theatre, director Marianne Elliott and her mainly young cast conjure up the the deep bond between man and horse in a fast-flowing narrative that takes us from pastoral peace to the bleak devestation of Flanders fields, where men and beasts fell in their hundreds of thousands.

Yes, the horses are puppets. But the word seems uttelry inadaequate to describe what the War Horse audience experiences. Exquisitely crafted from leather and wicker, each horse is operated by three clearly visible men.

At first glance they make no concessions to naturalism - but when they move.... they live and breathe and prance and gallop with such extraordinary truth to life that one is drawn in to their story with an emotional impact that bypasses any hint of sentimentality.

This is a tough afternoon in the theatre, harrowing at times, and yet also deeply moving and uplifting.

Five stars.

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