They shoot horses when they get old or loose a limb, according to an old saying. With a plot as old as time, this New London Theatre play did not succeed in hitting any emotional high notes.
The play is based on the same-titled novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford. Situated in rural Devon, a young boy named Albert forms and unbreakable bond with Joey, his beloved horse. But when his father sells Joey to the British cavalry right before World War I, the horse finds itself on the front line, serving for both the British and the German army. Despite his young age, Albert joins the army to reunite with his horse and bring it home.
According to the official website, War Horse is described as “the international smash-hit stage production”. Suitable for ten year olds, as it signifies right below. At least, they warn the audience right from the homepage!
Still not convinced enough, on a cold Wednesday evening we strolled down Drury Lane, in hope for a heart-warming feel-good play, focused on the First World War’s loss of men, animals and dignity, but it turned out that it was only a loss of time.
The primary storyline was about a boy who lost his little horse in the war and joined the army to retrieve it. Without a hint of realism or common sense, the play made it clear enough that you should value a horse’s life more than your own child’s. With the necessary hint of romance and many unnecessary hints of German culture, it took almost three hours to locate the horse across-stage, the same amount of time that Frodo took to carry the Ring from Hobbiton to Mordor via Minas Tirith!
If it weren’t for the talented Handspring Puppet Company, there would be no other reason to spend the –thankfully- moderate 15£. The animal puppets were crafted to perfection, with strips of leather hanging gracefully from their bronze skeleton sheltering the heart and soul of their existence; talented young actors carrying a huge burden on their backs, to bring this story to life.
But not all actors were carefully chosen. The boy’s mother was young enough to play his sister, while the French girl, with whom the protagonist falls in love, was old enough to play his aunt! As for the father, he probably needed a sip of real scotch in order to play a drunken gambler.
War Horse is not a musical, even though there are a couple of well played songs here and there to either warm up the audience or mourn over Joey’s loss, making watching the play more bearable.
However, that feeling is completely lost at the second part of the play, where the German army takes charge. The actor who was playing the surgeon was physically a perfect candidate for the role, but delivering a half-German-half-English script was not his forte. For most of the time, we couldn’t understand a word.
Overall, War Horse is only good for you if you’re a ten year old, a student procrastinating to the core, or a bored old couple who’s dinner at the local bridge club was cancelled.