Theater News Online
free issue
London Theatre Reviews
NY Theater Reviews
LTN Recommendations
NYTN Recommendations
Book Reviews
Movie Reviews
London Theatre Archives
NY Theater Archives
Latest New York News
Latest London News
NY News Archives
London News Archives
Peter Filichia's Monday Quiz
Dining and Travel
London Theatre Listings
NY Broadway Listings
Off-Broadway Listings
London Tickets
Advertise with us

Subscribe
Renew
Give a Gift


Logo

Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
WAR HORSE
at the Vivian Beaumont (Lincoln Center)

HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES
By BERNARD CARRAGHER

  (L to R) Prentice Onayemi, Madeleine Rose Yen, Peter Hermann and Cat Walleck in a scene from the National Theatre of Great Britain's production/ Ph: Paul Kolnik

War Horse, a new play from London at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre is a critic-proof, audience pleaser, as well as a two-handkerchief weeper. A brilliantly theatrical spectacle, it echoes several vastly popular family entertainments like National Velvet, Old Yeller and even the musical Cats. This spring War Horse won five Tony awards including Best Play of the season.
 
It is a simple story of a boy, Albert Narracott (Seth Numrich) and his beloved horse Joey. We first see Joey as a foal and then as a fully-grown horse, who at the start of World War I is heartbreakingly sold to a cavalry regiment heading for France.

A program note informs us that this was a common occurrence and that a total of 8 million horses died during World War I. One million horses like Joey were shipped to France to be used by the British and only 62,000 returned to Great Britain. All this was pretty much for naught since by 1914 war horses were antediluvian and machine guns were used in most engagements along with new trench warfare devices like barbed wire, tanks and poison gas.
 
What makes War Horse unique and theatrical is that all the horses are portrayed by extraordinary life-sized puppets from the Handsprung Puppet Company of Cape Town, South Africa. Magnificently designed by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones they become realistically alive by an expert team of puppeteers, a fact that tends to dwarf anything else that happens on stage. By play's end you are so mesmerized by these puppet horses that you will wish you had filled your pockets with sugar cubes as a reward for their artful performances. Besides Joey there are three other puppet horses on stage: Coco, Heine and the towering seven-foot-tall Tophorn.
 
War Horse is based on Michael Morporgo’s 1982 British children’s book and has been adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. It began as a Christmas show at the National Theatre and proved so popular that it moved to the West End for an extended run. A film version of War Horse using real horses has been completed by Stephen Speilberg and is set to be released in December.
 
As a play War Horse stammers after greatness that it never really achieves. The main fault is Stafford’s flat adaptation, which uses every old-fashioned trick from Playwriting 101 but doesn’t add anything really inspired or poetical to Morpurgo’s storybook. This is particularly noticeable in the act two in which he strings together a series of melodramatic battle related scenes that all seem to end in bathos.
 
You cannot blame the play’s excellent designer Rae Smith (sets, costumes and drawings) and Paule Constable (lighting) or its expert directors, Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, who use all the contributing arts of the stage – music, song, dance, projections and drawings, plus even a charming disruptive goose puppet, to keep War Horse from becoming moribund. Yet in the end it is the outstanding horse puppets, especially those depicting Joey’s saga with Albert, that win the audience over and capture its heart. Most playgoers are moved to tears – so much so that I was afraid I would need a lifeboat to get me out of the theater. 
 


SUBSCRIBE TO New York Theater News
SUBSCRIBE TO London Theater News

SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


Wine, Fruit, and Gourmet Gift Baskets.
Privacy Notice   |   Front Page
Copyright © TheaterNewsOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.