Why War Horse has been such a galloping success

PUBLISHED: 16:03 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:56 19 October 2017

War Horse. (Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)

War Horse. (Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)

Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Whatever I say here about War Horse, having had the great privilege of seeing it at the Hippodrome on its opening night in Bristol last night, could never do justice to what has become the biggest galloping success story in the history of National Theatre.

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The record-breaking show about a horse’s experiences in wartime, based on the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, opened at the National Theatre in London on October 17 2007, meaning the experience of seeing the enthralling performance was only topped by the pride of finding out I was at the actual tenth anniversary (bar a day!) of it being seen by enraptured audiences all around the world.

Since its record-breaking run in the West End, War Horse has been seen in 97 cities in 10 countries, and is back on tour to coincide with the centenary of the end of World War One.

The book, which was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film by Steven Spielberg, tells the heart-warming story of Devonshire farm boy Albert and his great and enduring love for a horse called Joey.

The show features ground-breaking puppetry work by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, which brings breathing, galloping horses to the stage.

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

As the play’s director Tom Morris told the Bristol audience at the end of the performance last night, the puppets themselves are just sticks of wood with canvas stuck on, but due to the skilled, and what must be back-breaking, work of the people in and outside the creations, the horses, birds and a very nosey but cute goose come alive for audiences who want to imagine they are the real thing on stage.

Creating life-like animals on stage aside, the other major hurdle for bringing Morpurgo’s tale to theatre audiences is to transport people to various stages, countries and scenes of World War One and its bloody battles, without it becoming a cacophony of confusion.

This was achieved simply but to great effect by having a projection screen in the shape of a scrap of paper running across the top of the stage backdrop. This also cleverly represents the scrap of paper torn from a sketchpad on which an army major had drawn Joey, which Albert rips out to keep as a memento when he goes to war in search of his beloved pet. The screen was then used to show sketches, continually moving, of the Devon village where Albert and his family live, army trenches, the Western Front, boats sailing to Calais, and the Battle of the Somme, among many others.

In fact the war scenes, as shocking as they were, provided possibly the best, and certainly the most dramatic, piece of theatre I have ever seen. The dazzlingly bright flashes of light, tension-building music and tremendously loud bangs, which caused the lady sitting next to me to shower herself with her glass of red wine not only once but two or three times, continued to make the audience jump, recoil in horror, gasp and sit open-mouthed in unison throughout the two hours and 25 minutes.

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The cast were all superb and played their parts with the utmost professionalism and it certainly could not have been easy to act out such heart-wrenching scenes as you would expect to see in battle.

In fact I could not even pick out stand-out performances as to do so would be grossly unfair to the rest of the huge ensemble who were all marvellous in equal measure.

I will say though that the show would not have been so emotionally draining and thought-provoking without the haunting accordion-playing and folk singing of Bob Fox throughout the performance, which was the glue which held all the scenes together.

I was dubious about taking my nine-year-old son with me to see it, knowing it would be such a late night for him on a school night, but I am so glad I did. He thoroughly enjoyed it as much as me and I know he left understanding a lot more about how horrific it must have been to live through and serve during wartime. So at least I can feel justified in adding to his education even if he has been falling asleep in lessons today!

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The show is an absolute must-see, even if you never see another play in your life. It is an extremely powerful, emotive and totally immersive piece of theatre and richly deserves all the accolades bestowed upon it.

War Horse will be at the Bristol Hippodrome until November 11 at 7.30pm, Monday- Saturday.

There will be 2.30pm matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Tickets, priced £22.40-65.40, are available from www.atgtickets.com/venues/bristol-hippodrome or 08448 713012.

Other Entertainment News

18:00

The sequel to a cult 1990s adventure is being screened at the Curzon this week and we have two tickets up for grabs to see it.

Read more
Mon, 18:41

A production of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is being staged this week.

Read more
Sunday, January 14, 2018

Speakeasy Jazz Club will celebrate its third birthday this month and Baby Jools And The Jazzaholics will be performing live.

Read more
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A British wartime drama depicting the toughest moment during the reign of one of the country’s most iconic figures is at the Curzon this week.

Read more
Monday, January 8, 2018

The biggest names in British comedy will appear in Bristol for the 14th slapstick festival.

Read more
Saturday, January 6, 2018

The family-friendly pantomime Mother Goose will be performed in Backwell this January.

Read more
Wednesday, January 3, 2018

If you are struggling to keep the children entertained now Christmas is over for another year, remember there is still time to watch a magical pantomime – oh yes there is!

Read more
Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Theatre Shop in Clevedon is gearing up for a smoking evening of jazz.

Read more
Friday, December 29, 2017

A musical celebrating the life of one of history’s great entertainers will kick off a new year of cinema at the Curzon.

Read more
Thursday, December 28, 2017

February will see one of the UK’s best-loved indie bands take to the stage in Bristol.

Read more

Most Read Entertainment

Read Online

Image
Read the North Somerset Times e-edition E-edition

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 7°C

min temp: 6°C

Useful Links

Advertise in the paper
Submit a Story
Subscribe to the paper
Competitions
Send Your Letters
Order Photos
Family notices
iwitness24
Facebook
Twitter
Reader Travel

Clevedon Tide report

Family Notices 24

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Show Job Lists

Local business directory

Somerset's trusted business finder

Find planning applications