The New London Theatre is one of the West End’s newer theatres, having opened in 1973. From 1981-2002 it was home to one of Andrew Lloyd Webbers biggest successes, Cats the Musical. For the past six years the National Theatre production of War Horse has been galloping across the stage every night and I went along to check out the newest cast.
War Horse is based on the 1982 book by children’s writer Michael Morpurgo (who’s 2005 book I Believe In Unicorns is hitting the West End stage this summer). In 2007, the National Theatre produced a stage version of this story which then transferred to the West End in 2009 where it is still playing to packed houses every night at the New London Theatre. In 2011 Stephen Spielberg produced sthe film version of this book which went on to be nominated for six academy awards.
Set in Devon, Cornwall in 1914, feuding brothers Billy and Ted get into a bidding war at market for a young foal. After winning the horse (and spending the mortgage payment on it), Ted tells his son Albert he must raise the horse until it is old enough to sell on and hopefully make back the tidy sum he paid for it. Albert names the horse Joey and they build an incredible bond together. But when World War 1 breaks out and the army are paying good money for healthy horses, Ted sells Joey who is sent off to war, crushing Albert who loses his best friend. Albert lies about his age the enter the army and sets out on a mission to find his beloved horse. But what are the chances of finding Joey in another country and will he even still be alive? Will Albert even survive the war himself?
War Horse is a brilliantly told story with life size puppet horses brought to life on stage by three actors (one working the head, one the front legs and one the back legs). Birds and a Goose are also created through life-like movements, give a magical feeling to the production. Video projections are nicely used and musical interludes help to break up scene changes. This play is very much an ensemble piece with everyone working together, not only to operate the horses but to create the feeling of war and the emotions behind it.
The charming thing about Michael Morpurgo’s original book is that it is told from the perspective of Joey, the Horse and makes for a very interesting read. However it is understandably difficult to transfer this perspective to be told on stage and so the play and film are told from Albert’s perspective.
War Horse is a play about history and is an educational trip for youngsters. You won’t come out feeling uplifted but with a heavy heart for the war our country went through and the people who’s lives were lost. This play should be seen by everyone at least once in their life.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Brinkhoff Mögenburg
War Horse is currently booking at the New London Theatre until 13 February 2016. Click here for tickets