The Bristol Hippodrome
Wednesday 18th October – Saturday 11th November 2017
This week the major UK tour of National Theatre’s internationally acclaimed War Horse started it’s run at The Bristol Hippodrome as part of a 15 city tour which is due to continue until February 2019.
I first saw the show here in 2015 and was mesmerised by the experience. (You can read my 2015 War Horse review here.) It’s rare that after I’ve watched a show, I’m eager to see it again soon, but War Horse is one of the few exceptions. As I drove into Bristol this week, I was hoping my second viewing would be as rewarding as the first.
WAR HORSE SYNOPSIS
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel, War Horse is the emotional story of a young boy called Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who is sent to France to join the cavalry in the first World War, leaving his heartbroken owner behind. Despite being too young to enlist, Albert sets out on a dangerous quest to look for his horse and try to bring him home.
Pivotal to the production is the spectacular, life-size make-believe horse, Joey. He’s technically a puppet but that word really doesn’t seem to do justice to this magnificent creation who seems to live and breathe before us.
WAR HORSE REVIEW
War Horse is a thought provoking story of love, loss and loyalty and I am caught up in the story from start to end of this dramatic stage production.
Above the sparse stage hangs a giant strip of paper which appears to have been torn from an artist’s sketch book. We see the tale unfold with drawings and film projected onto this medium, at times enhancing the story on stage and at others offering a different perspective. We are encouraged to be creative and fill in the gaps as there are few props on the stage below, apart from life-sized horses and other animals which are brought to life by a team of puppeteers. Most impressive of all these creatures is Joey. We, the audience, take a leap of faith and believe in this horse made of wood and canvas, willing him to succeed in the trials he faces and feeling the love between this beast and the lives he touches. This illusion is made simple for us by the clever puppeteers who faithfully recreate equine movements, right down to flicks of his mane and the breathing motion which I can see all the way from my seat near the back of the stalls.
The lighting is beautiful and the source of much of the show’s atmosphere, leading us through scenes as diverse as the peaceful dawn of day on the Devon farm to the chaos and horror of a fearful world war I battle: the perfect mix of subtle, moody and dramatic. After the show we met the co-lighting designer, Paule Constable, and when I congratulated her on her work, I wasn’t surprised to discover that she was also responsible for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, another superb play and lighting triumph.
Bob Fox’s folk singing also adds to the atmosphere and provides a haunting musical narration which gently and beautifully clarifies the story.
WAR HORSE AGE SUITABILITY
Some partially disguised bad language and the violent war theme lead me to suggest an age range of 9 upwards.
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