We saw “War Horse” at Lincoln Center Theater this week and I thought a short review for those of us who love horses was in order.
From the Miriam-Webster Dictionary: War Horse
1: a horse used in war: charger
2: a person with long experience in a field; especially: a veteran soldier or public person (as a politician)
3: something (as a work of art or musical composition) that has become overly familiar or hackneyed due to much repetition in the standard repertoire
The play tells the story of young Albert Narracott and his majestic horse Joey in the days just prior to WW I. The real stars of this production are the puppeteers and the designers of the play. The horse puppets, especially the yearling Joey, give the uncanny feeling of a living, breathing animal.
When war breaks out, Albert’s drunkard Father sells Joey to the British Army. A kindly Officer promises Albert he will care for his beloved colt on the battlefield but is quickly killed in battle. Heartbroken Albert runs away from home to enlist in a desperate attempt to find his horse. The script by Nick Stafford is from a book by Michael Morpurgo first published in 1982. In the program it is noted that eight million horses perished in WW I. Morpurgo has said that he wanted to write of the suffering of the Great War through the eyes of a horse. That is exactly what we get in this production, especially in the last heart wrenching scenes when Joey and Albert are reunited on the battlefield.
Special note should be given to set designer Rae Smith and the Handspring Puppet Company who show us simply the nature of war in general and this battle in particular. WW I was the last major war in which horses were used in battle. “War Horse” is a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the fighting that history has told us was a barbaric atrocity.