Ten years since its premiere at the National Theatre and one hundred years since the end of the First World War, War Horse embarks on its second UK tour. Ellie Woolman reviews:

There is a real buzz as blockbuster play War Horse returns to Theatre Royal Plymouth, in its original setting of Devon. Everything seems so much closer to home in this setting, this time round.

Following Michael Morpurgo’s classic 1982 novel (and Steven Spielberg‘s 2011 film), War Horse follows the story of Albert Narracott (Thomas Dennis) and his beloved horse, Joey. Set in amidst the brutality of the First World War, the audience follow the heart-warming bond between man and animal.

The horse characters are brought to life with iconic and beautiful puppets by the Handspring Puppet Company and ‘horse choreography’ by Toby Sedgwick. Potentially the most exquisite puppetry to ever grace theatre stages, audiences are swept up in the magic, to the extent of believing the animals on stage with their graceful movement and stunning frames.

War Horse Theatre Royal Plymouth

Anna Chessher, Chris Charles, Samuel Parker, Tom Quinn, Dominic Ramsden & Nicky Cross (image courtesy of Brinkhoff/ Mögenburg)

The performances given are just as emotional as the actual plot. Ensured there were no dry eyes in the house. A standout performance in particular is Dennis as Albert , the young boy bursting with love and charm. Dennis expertly performs all sides of Albert’s character – vulnerability at war, the strong friend, caring son and loving horse-owner. He is irresistibly charismatic, a fantastic character performed impeccably.

The story is elevated by Rae Smith’s magnificent design. A ripped piece of paper across the overhead of the stage provides a backdrop of projected sketches, as depicted by the onlooking character of Lt. Nicholls (Ben Ingles) and all that he observes. Apart from a few pieces of removable set here and there, the stage is ultimately darkness, with only effective lighting by Paule Constable to render the atmosphere. Less is more and this simple staging is efficacious in emphasising the importance of the puppets on stage. The whole show centres around them, even more so than the actors, which is totally refreshing.

War Horse Theatre Royal Plymouth

Image courtesy of Brinkhoff/ Mögenburg

Alongside the narrative of Albert and his horse is a tale of a countryside community coming together at a time of war. This part of the plot is carried seamlessly by Adrian Sutton’s music; folk songs tell a story of camaraderie and perseverance. A spectating character aptly named the Song Man, played by Bob Fox, encapsulates the spirit of the village through a soul-stirring score and his handy accordion.

War Horse is an example of an ageless show. Its story is relatable and heart-warming, no matter the era it is set in. It is ultimately the puppets that are unbelievably effective in every way, something awe inspiring and utterly unique for regional audiences to enjoy. It feels very special to welcome Joey and Albert home to Devon.

 

 

★★★★☆

War Horse runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 15 September 2018 as part of a UK tour. For further information, please visit the show website.