War Horse – Theatre Review

Twelve years ago, London’s National Theatre premiered a production that would become a worldwide phenomenon. With over 11 million patrons across the globe, it’s no surprise that War Horse is making a triumphant return to our shores, and it’s a production that deserves your attention.

Set at the beginning of the 1900’s, just prior to the British Empire declaring war on Germany, two brothers are declaring war on each other, a bidding war. Ted Narracott (Colin Connor), drunk and not willing to back down from a fight is bidding for a foal at the market. His brother Arthur Narracott (William Ilkley) drives the price higher and higher. Worried about paying the mortgage, Ted’s son Albert (Scott Miller) tries to reason with Ted only to receive a beating. Eventually the price is so high, Arthur backs down and the horse heads home with Ted and Albert. Mother and wife, Rose (Jo Castleton) is furious that the mortgage money has been wasted. Albert is put in charge of the new addition to the Narracot Farm in a hope that it can earn is way and recover the cost.

Albert, desperate to make amends for his father’s mistake and not wanting to give up the horse, Albert gets to work and begins to form a strong bond with young foal he names ‘Joey’. Two years pass and Ted is still getting into fights with his brother, this time they bet Joey can’t plow a field. Ted’s arrogance, once again, gets the better of him and Albert is left to fight, once again, to keep Joey. After Joey and Albert successfully plow the field, church bells begin ring out across town. England is at war. Once again, drunk and selfish, Ted is offered 100 quid for Joey as an officers horse. Without hesitation nor consultation with his son, Ted agree and Joey is off to war. Albert, devastated and angry at his father runs off with hope of being reunited with his best friend.

War Horse is by far one of the best ‘war stories’ I’ve ever experienced, likely because it’s not your average tale. Yes, it has a similar narrative to most war stories of mate-ship, but it’s the confronting realistic display of the horrifyingly cruel usage of animals in war that makes this play so raw. The puppetry used to bring these majestic creatures to life is utterly incredible. This combination of life like creatures and confronting story line is what makes this production so incredible. It’s not all doom and gloom, as there are some much needed comedic breaks in dialogue to lighten the mood. There’s even a goose that runs around causing trouble.

Scott Miller is outstanding as the young and determined Albert Narracott. The youthful persona and undying love for his horse came across flawlessly. Notable mentions to Christopher Naylor for his portrayal of Nazi Captain Friedrich Müller, and to Natalie Kimmerling in her role as the your French girl, Emilie. Together they proved that even the most unlikely combination can form a beautiful friendship. Of course the true stars of this production are the puppets and their incredible talented puppeteers. They really do come to life and it’s a sight that must be seen to be believed.

War Horse is beautiful, moving and unapologetically raw. I most certainly cried and not just once. I recall how much I enjoyed it back in 2012 but I most definitely forgot how hard this show hit me emotionally. I am so glad War Horse is back in Australia and I’m extremely thankful I was able to experience this incredible story all over again.

War Horse is at Melbourne’s newly refurbished Regent Theatre until February 8 and then travels to Sydney from February 15 and Perth from March 24.

Tickets are available from warhorseonstage.com.au

Photography by Brinkhoff Mögenburg.

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