In a spur of the moment decision, we were given two free tickets to see War Horse. A colleague of Jeff’s had two extra tickets and they happened to know that we are fans of the stage. I had seen the movie and bawled like a little girl, but that didn’t deter my interest in seeing how in the world they would get the horses on stage. We headed over to the New London Theatre and made our way to our seats. We were astoundingly close to the stage we could see the beads of sweat on the actors faces.
We were impressed with how they horses were constructed much like the animals in The Lion King. There were three women manipulating the colt version of the horse complete with the sounds and movements. It didn’t take long to not see them anymore and get immersed in the theatricality. Then after about ten minutes and an effective montage sequence, we were transitioned to the full grown horse guided by three men which seemed even more invisible than the three women from before.
The story of War Horse follows a young boy named Albert who must care for a young horse due to a foolish bet placed by his father. The horse, affectionately called Joey, grows up strong and in the nick of time for the first World War to break out. Joey is then brought to be an officer’s horse and makes his way through the atrocities of war. Albert is so desperate to reclaim his friend, he enlists as a volunteer putting himself in peril while fighting in the trenches.
The stage was simple with only a rotating section in the floor that was used a couple of times and just two doors that appeared every now and then to show a minimal set–otherwise it was all about the actors and the horses and the occasional prop. There is one sequence in particular that floored me. The first battle where the horses are used, Officer Norris rides Joey directly into fire in slow motion. Then using clever stage lighting, several extras rushed toward the actor and slowly pulled him off the horse as if being thrown. I felt completely engrossed.
Shortly after this moment, the stage went black. We were confused until the stage manager came out saying something had malfunctioned and there would be a few minute delay in the continuation of the performance. We sat tight watching the minutes click by until eventually, after several attempts to get things going, the play had to be cancelled. While we felt they were absolutely professional, we were left wondering what happened. Did something happen to Joey? Would we ever find out?
As luck would have it, we were given a chance to finish the play last night. It was just a week long intermission as we made our way back to the New London Theatre to see the performance again. Our seats were a little further back so we could see a whole new perspective of the show.
Having seen it so recently before, we were able to pick out the change in some of the actors, which I had not anticipated, but for a permanent play, it makes perfect sense. But the other thing we noticed is despite knowing the story, we still found ourselves attached to Joey and on the verge of tears again!
It was structured differently from the film, and I was rather sad there were no appearances from Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, but it was still a heart-wrenching telling of a war story. We were taken aback from how quickly it all wrapped up in a perfect bow. The resolution was so quick we were surprised when the lights dimmed and it was over.
We enjoyed the night out and even more so being able to see the play in its entirety, but this definitely measured up to a big blockbuster film versus an indie picture which is what we had been accustomed to the last few months with local productions.