Photos – Brinkhoff Mögenburg
War Horse was last seen here in 2012 and played for nearly three months at Arts Centre Melbourne. This time however, the season at the magnificent and recently refurbished Regent Theatre is a great deal shorter with performances running only until February 8.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel of the same name, War Horse was adapted for stage by Nick Stafford for the National Theatre of Great Britain. Opening on the vast stage of London’s Olivier Theatre in 2007, the show won countless awards, was revived the following year and then transferred to the West End where it ran at the New London Theatre for a staggering 3000 performances over 7 years. With subsequent long running and award-winning Broadway seasons and multiple international tours, not only did the National find a Work Horse, they deservedly found a Cash Cow because theatrically, War Horse is breath taking.
Given the vast and epic nature of his First World War novel, Michael Morpurgo found it difficult to believe the work could ever be staged but War Horse ultimately became an astounding showcase of multi-disciplined artistry and creative genius. Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris share original directorial credit and deserve additional reverence indeed for assembling creatives so incredibly in tune with their vision and none more so than the collaboration with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.
Puppetry is of a course a familiar and much loved convention but as a theatrical devise, it is perhaps associated with works more Avant Garde in nature but here, the extraordinary use of life size puppets for the show’s equine principles is without question, what has helped this production become an internationally recognised mainstream phenomena. Handspring and a vast team of designers, puppet directors and choreographers have created something so astoundingly beautiful, intricate and wonderous that gasps and delight are genuinely audible. From set design simplicity, the lilt of its songs, the impact of its soundtrack and coupled with truly spectacular lighting, every technical element of this production works seamlessly in supporting our suspension of disbelief and connection.
Adding to the epic feel of the production is an incredibly large all British company and yet the highly visual nature of this work does, without any detriment, tend to background them. Performances are consistently very good with Scott Millar in the principle human role of Albert deserving mention for solidly capturing determination and outpouring of love for his equine co-star Joey.
While ultimately beautifully fulfilling; narratively War Horse is gruelling, upsetting and undeniably emotional and with its incredibly powerful theatricality, our senses are masterfully manipulated however, in what is already an abundantly sentimental piece, the script at times can tend to overstate and feel a little laboured in clumsily trying to extract what we are already gaining visually but this really is the mildest of moans.
War Horse is a detailed and dedicated tribute to the far-reaching suffering of all sentient beings in war and for lovers of theatre, extraordinary evidence of your passion.
Go if you haven’t and take the philistines with you for conversion.
National Theatre of Great Britain
based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo | adapted by Nick Stafford
Directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris
Venue: Regent Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Dates: from 10 January 2020
Sydney Lyric Theatre | from 15 February 2020
Perth Crown Theatre | from 24 March 2020