Review – War Horse – National Theater at the New London Theatre

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Am I the last person in London to see War Horse? Given that it opened in 2007, it seems like the answer is “yes,” but it can’t possibly be true, or it wouldn’t be booking at the New London Theater through October 2013, and people wouldn’t keep coming to my site looking for cheap deals to see it. I’ve been wanting to see it for all of this time, and I’ve carefully kept myself away from spoilers in anticipation of seeing it. I mean, horses! Puppets! Horse puppets! It seemed like the kind of play I could really, really enjoy … but not the kind I could see on a budget. (I’ve only seen offers twice and the show constantly is sold out, so my advice is, if you want to see it for cheap, shop far in advance for the restricted view seats, such as circle A14 and A15, only £10.)

So, we’re looking at a show that, if I was going to see, I was going to need to fork over some serious dough for, since it’s supposed to be spectacular and so I actually wanted to NOT have a restricted view. And here you are, at Life in the Cheap Seats, and I’m telling you there aren’t any deals to be found, and what you’ve got to want to know is, is it worth it? (For the record, my tickets were £65, and they were a birthday present, so they WERE cheap … for me! But I waited all of this time to go because I couldn’t afford anything the year it came out, and I couldn’t convince myself to pay full price, and it never came up at TKTS, and even Graham Roberts of Great Tickets was only ever able to save about £2 a ticket. So I asked for it as a birthday present, and I received.)

Rather disappointingly, I need to report that five years after it opened, War Horse continues to have a strong emotional impact and shows no signs of flagging commitment from the cast. We know it’s about a boy and his horse and World War I, right, so no spoilers there … but I wasn’t expecting such a lyrical look at life in rural Devon before the war, or that so much attention would be spent on making Albert’s family and their struggles on their farm so vibrant. And I had thought it was told through the eyes of the horse … but it’s not. The main horse, Joey, is followed throughout the story, but we simply follow his experiences, which almost always have a human focus and never turn into silly anthropomorphism. There is no horsey thoughts spoken through a narrator (I was SO worried about this), and Joey stays a horse, responding in a horsey way … there is never a moment which I thought to be unsuited to the natural behavior of a (well-loved and trusting) horse. Would he react to gunfire and the realities of battle the way he did? Well, that I can’t say, but what I saw made it all seem quite natural.

A lot has been made of the puppets and, well, if you read me a lot, you’ll note that I write about puppets more than most theater bloggers. The War Horse full sized horse puppets did have a stunning range of movement – I’ll never buy their running motion (and walking wasn’t particularly great), but kicking and most normal horse stuff (like pulling a cart) was quite good, and by the time we got to the climactic first act “bet” scene, I’d become pretty vested in Joey, no longer reading him as a pile of sticks being manipulated by three puppeteers but as a horse (as represented on stage, much like “Albert” was a grown man playing a boy). And the fight scene with him and another horse was really done just extremely well. I was also pleased to see there were many other puppets in the show, from the birds that built atmosphere in the opening scene, to the comic goose, to the tragic one-man horse/human puppets that represented the cavalry and quite dramatically showed that the age of man and horse in war had come to an end just as Joey had been called up to a “higher” duty than pampered farmhorse.

WELL! So where does that leave you? I cried occasionally and without shame during this show, and wept hard enough at the end that I had to wipe my tears on my sleeve. All that and I’d just spent nearly three hours (time flew by, I hadn’t even noticed how long it had been) watching a bunch of sticks making friends with a guy earning a paycheck on stage. Total suspension of disbelief, people, and I loved every minute of it, even the songs, even the German cavalryman. I could tell, though, that there were some _might_ bad seats at the New London, but still, if good story telling and compelling theater is what your looking for, Warhorse really delivers. It may be the last present I ever get from my husband (more sniffling and sadness), but it was a wonderful gift.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 12th, 2012. The show never seems to end. Buy ahead if you want to buy cheap.)

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2 Responses to “Review – War Horse – National Theater at the New London Theatre”

  1. georginafindlay Says:

    Great review – I too have been waiting eagerly to see this, but unfortunately have not yet been able to cough up the dough. Such a pity my birthday is in May… Thank you for making the wait just that little more unbearable!

  2. tubz Says:

    Yes, just seen it. Brilliant. I would of loved to see a full on farmyard scene. ‘Puppets’ is an understatement of description. There so much more than the ‘puppet on a string’. I hope the concept spreads, so enjoyable.
    Please recommend other similar performances. Tnx.

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