Reviewed by Catherine Brown
After 8 years in London’s West End, the moving drama ‘War Horse’ is impressing audiences at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent as part of a UK tour. Set during the outbreak of World War One, this fascinating story moves from rural Devon to the front line in France. Originally a novel by Michael Morpurgo, later turned into a film directed by Steven Spielberg, the show involves life size horses created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.
A young man Albert Narracott (played by Scott Miller) develops a close bond with his horse Joey, despite the eagerness of his father Arthur to sell him. As men and horses are called up to serve their country, Albert is heartbroken when Joey is sold to the Cavalry and shipped to France. Skills Joey has been using to plough fields enable him to be useful pulling the wounded soldiers on ambulance carts. Despite being too young to sign up, when Albert hears that soldiers on the battlefield where I is have been killed, Albert is determined to rescue his friend. Many dramatic scenes follow, describing the harrowing events that the men and animals on both sides faced during the war.
The clever manipulation of the puppets, especially in their reaction to the traditional actors, quickly convinces the audience that there are real horses on stage, suffering the same fate that so many thousands did in the war. The powerful lighting and music (be prepared for loud bangs when shots are fired) help to immerse you into the horrors of war. There are humorous moments, despite the subject matter, along with enjoyable musical interludes by Ben Murray using an accordion or harmonica to play traditional English folk tunes.
I found myself mesmerised by this intense performance, which explores the pressures of war on everyone involved and the determination and courage shown by so many. The highlight for me was the puppetry – every little detail of the movement of each horse such as a flick of the tail or bow of the head made them appear so realistic it was easy to forget they were not actual animals.
The Regent Theatre is located in the Hanley area of the city with plenty of public car parks nearby. The staff were friendly and helpful and most importantly there were no long queues for the toilet for me to dab my puffy eyes!
War Horse is a completely unique production, one definitely worth watching with a tissue to hand.
Tickets cost from £13 to £67.90 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
War Horse is at the Regent Theatre in Stoke from 27 March to 6 April 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/regent-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7649.
Regent Theatre, Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 1AP | 0844 871 7649