Show: War Horse
Venue: SEC Armadillo, Glasgow
Date: 19th January 2019
Director: Marianne Elliot & Tom Morris
Writer: Nick Stafford, adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo
Music: Adrian Sutton
Principal cast: Thomas Dennis (Albert Narracott), Jo Castleton (Rose Narracott), Gwilym Lloyd (Ted Narracott), Joelle Brabban (Emilie), & Peter Becker (Friedrich)
The iconic West End show finally made its way to Glasgow as part of a three year UK tour, celebrating the play’s 10th anniversary. Having booked tickets to see it more than two years ago, it’s been a long wait, but I can wholeheartedly say it was worth every moment.
This is easily one of the best and most powerful theatre shows I’ve ever seen. The stunning puppetry work brought the animals to life in a way that was far more captivating that I could ever have imagined. It’s a cliché line, but it really is something that has to be seen to be believed – or at least to be fully appreciated. Really, I can’t praise the horse designers (Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones) or the team of performers that animated them highly enough. It’s of no disservice to the performances of the rest of the cast to say that Joey and his fellow war horse, Topthorn, were far and away the most expressive, enigmatic presences on stage. To pull that off, and to have them provoke genuine pathos, sympathy, fear, and elation during almost every emotional beat of the story (of which there are many), is an incredible achievement.
The show is loyal to the general arc of the book’s narrative, which I was pleased to see. Any changes they made felt entirely justified for a visual medium, and worked well to drive home the play’s themes of the futility of war, and the human capacity for both immense cruelty and genuine kindness in times of conflict.
The quality and attention to detail across all departments enhanced the immersive nature of the production, with perhaps the best use of lighting and sound design I’ve seen; impeccably implemented music; clever projection work; and truly haunting imagery. It really is a feast for the senses; the piercing crack of bullets, the terrified shrieks of horses, and every ominous wisp of fog drawing the viewer further in. Indeed, the brutality of World War I is captured with such intense clarity that it can’t fail to resonate on an emotional level. The Armadillo is a sizable venue, but you could practically feel the tension in the air; every member of the audience equally enthralled by what was playing out on stage.
I could keep gushing, but suffice to say that War Horse is more than just a play; it’s an experience. One I would urge everyone to try for themselves if and when they can.