I love the Michael Morpurgo book, it is such a beautiful, but terrifying and incredibly sad story. It tells the story of a teenage boy called Albert, who is given the task of looking after a young horse he calls Joey, after his drunk father buys him at a fair for all the wrong reasons. Albert and Joey form an unbreakable bond, until the day that Albert's father sells the horse to go off to war. Joey begins a frightening journey to France and ends up on the front line for both Britain and Germany. Wherever he goes, he forms friendships and in some situations peace. Meanwhile, an underage Albert signs up and goes to France himself in the attempt to track down Joey.
The stage play stays very true to the book and there are some truly heartbreaking moments. It begins with a beautiful scene of a young Joey galloping around. The puppeteers are amazing, there are times when you do believe the horses to be real, with flicking of the ears and kicks of the hind legs bringing these characters to life. There are some terrible scenes during the conflict, with both horses and men being killed viciously. For a play that is aimed at a young audience and schools, there is some traumatic imagery, with young men hobbling around with limbs missing, faces disfigured and horses being put out of their pain. I would warn that this may be distressing, but then it is part of our history and a something that everyone should know and think about.
There is some light relief with a cheeky goose living on the farm who bangs in to doors and hisses at and attacks various characters, getting a huge cheer at the bows at the end. There are also some humorous one-liners - when Albert is getting a lot of stick for talking non-stop about his horse on the front line, he retorts while looking at a picture of his friend's girlfriend 'Well at least Joey is supposed to look like a horse...'
I was surprised at how large the cast was and there are also several songs to help tell the story. This is a stunning and poignant piece of theatre and while I would not necessarily say that I enjoyed it or would want to see it again as I did find it very upsetting, I would recommend that everyone go to see this amazing play.
You can buy tickets for War Horse here www.warhorseonstage.com/tickets/london or from ticket outlets throughout Covent Garden / Leicester Square. We managed to get ours for £12.00.
My review for the book is here