Reviewed by Louise Watts
The epic Michael Morpurgo novel, War Horse, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford is celebrating its centenary year with a national tour which this week is in Nottingham, at the Royal Concert Hall.
Nothing can prepare you for the rollercoaster of emotions that you are taken on as we meet our War Horse, Joey, who is a cross thoroughbred and ranger, growing up on a farm in Devon in the early 1900s. He is dearly loved by Albert (played by Thomas Dennis), whose father, Ted (played by Gwilyn Lloyd) slightly worse for wear, wins the horse in an auction battling against his brother with whom he has a frosty relationship. He spends the money for the mortgage on the horse, leaving his long-suffering wife, Rose (played by Jo Castleton) tearing her hair out.
Joey, as a foal, is engineered by three actors – each holding a different part of the “puppet”. The effect is so lifelike as the horse’s personality and even facial expressions seem so true to reality. As the years pass and the bond between Albert and Joey strengthens the audience see Joey as a full-grown horse with incredible stage presence and equine prowess.
To settle another wager with his brother, Ted forces Albert to teach Joey how to plough. Everyone knows that the horse is in no way built for this kind of work, but such is the bond, Joey will do anything for Albert. He wears the harnesses and pulls the plough so Ted wins the bet. His father is forced to promise that Albert can keep the horse in return.
As 1914 dawns, the first world war beckons and young men are asked to sign up to join the army and fight. Horses are also needed and when Ted hears they are offering around £100 he offers Joey without any consultation with his son.
Albert, just 16 years old, is heartbroken but is unable to follow his horse to the trenches. He puts his faith in Lieutenant Nicholls, played by Ben Ingles, who plays down the war and promises him they will soon be back.
At interludes throughout the performance, we hear haunting melodies from folk singer, Bob Fox, who strolls through the action on stage (and one time sings from the audience) as Song Man, a role he has been in for the last seven years both in the West End and on tour.
The brutality of war hits hard and as Nicholls is killed in action word gets home to Albert. He runs away in search of his beloved friend, Joey, and manages to sign up to join the British Army and fight in France despite his tender age.
There are heart-warming and funny moments mixed in with the bloody reality of war, the traumas, and the astounding effects that whisk you away to the battlefront line, leaving you captivated and on the edge of your seat.
The National Theatre has yet again not disappointed with an astounding display of action-packed drama, stunning special effects and atmospheric music and lighting bring to life an epic story with incredible results.
This exhilarating show is really is one not to be missed – if indeed there are any tickets left!
The Royal Concert Hall is adjacent to the Theatre Royal in the city centre, close to lots of bars and restaurants with car parking close by and the tram stopping just outside.
Tickets cost from £18 to £55 (booking fees may apply).
War Horse is at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham from 14 March to 7 April 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.trch.co.uk or call the box office on 0115 989 5555.
Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Theatre Square, Nottingham, NG1 5ND | 0115 989 5555