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Sydney review - War Horse: the perfect theatrical experience

Photo - Brinkhoff Mögenburg

War Horse

By Michael Morpurgo

Adapted by Nick Stafford

A National Theatre of Great Britain Production

Lyric Theatre

The Star


Season: 15 February – 15 March 2020. Bookings:

Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval

War Horse stands as a case study of the perfect theatrical experience. In all departments, whether it’s the plot, script, acting, lighting, sound, direction, costumes or set design, standards are exemplary.

Be aware though, sentimental heartstrings will be pulled, stretched and battered as the story of Joey the War Horse unfolds. But so what. This is a great story for people with a heart and soul.

Based on War Horse written by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford, the stage play is a moving saga about a farm horse in country Devon which is sold to the British Army at the start of The Great War.

“Fear God, Honour the King” is the cavalry battle cry.

Over the course of the war, Joey endures a series of battlefield horrors, serves both the British and the Germans and transports wounded soldiers. A human story is told in parallel as we follow Joey’s original young trainer Albert in his dedicated pursuit to be reunited with his beloved Joey.

War Horse is gripping from start to finish.

Fundamental to its success is the outstanding work of South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. They take puppetry to an entirely new level of sophistication. Forget about ‘2 men in a horse suit’, Joey and his stablemate Topthorn are full-scale metal and fabric creations which amazingly replicate every conceivable action that a real horse would do. There are no overhead strings as they are manoeuvred by three handlers who seem to be almost invisible to the surrounding stage activities.

Other puppeteers come and go with geese and overflying birds. The puppet contraptions are beautifully conceived, and one can’t help but feel an affinity with them.

The input from the lighting, sound and staging deserves special praise as well. Farmhouse, battlefields and other scenes were portrayed on a raised screen, non-descript in shape, like a page torn from a book. Haunting Celtic tunes helped to create the war time period sense of calm in village life. In contrast, dramatic lighting, smoke and sound effects perfectly depicted the frenzied war scenes.

Sydney’s Lyric Theatre is ideal for this production of War Horse. The wide stage and high clearance gave plenty of room to accommodate the cast of 34 and 20 puppets. All patrons had an uninterrupted view, showing their pleasure by a spontaneous standing ovation at the end.

War Horse is total entertainment! Its subtle anti-war theme resonates with all. It is fascinating, inspiring and sparks the imagination like few productions can do. Great for all ages. Take the kids to see. It’ll do ‘em good.

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