Theater Review: "War Horse" On Broadway
Wrong. At the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York (a part of Lincoln Center Theatre), there are real horses up on stage in "War Horse." Or at least, there are puppet horses that are so convincing that people in the front row shy away from being trampled.
It sounds preposterous for a puppet operated by three humans to be so realistic that the audience can ignore the puppeteers to the point that they no longer exist, but Joey and his equine companions in "War Horse" are surprisingly lifelike.
It's easy to forget that these are creatures made of wood and cloth, not hot-blooded mammals, and they inspire a maternal instinct that, out of context, is incomprehensible.
"War Horse" follows Albert Narracott (Seth Numrich), an English youth in the early 20th century. His father, Ted (Boris McGiver), bankrupts the family to buy him a horse, Joey. Albert trains Joey and the two care for each other. Then, with the outbreak of World War I (or the Great War, as it was called then), Ted sells Joey to the army as to join the cavalry for £100. Albert is too young to enlist, so he and his beloved horse are separated.
As the war progresses, Joey's caretakers try to keep the beautiful horse safe in a war that is decidedly dangerous for mounted officers and their steeds, and Albert joins the military to try and find Joey.
Numrich is a fantastic actor and helps the audience understand the strong bond between man and horse. Unfortunately, he does not have great material to work with.
The play, which is based on Michael Morpugo's novel and adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford, is simple and predictable, and were it to stand on its own (that is, without the puppets), it would probably not hold up well. But the puppets are such a feat that it is easy to forgive the faults of the play. Even the goose that lives on the Narracott's farm, which seems little more than a child's toy, is remarkably lifelike.
The aesthetic of the show, like the horse puppets (by Adrian Cohler and Basil Jones), does a very good job of creating a full, rich world out of simple elements. The scenic design, by Rae Smith is very spare, yet it unequivocally creates the world of the play. The songs, which were written by Jason Tams and performed by Liam Robinson and Kate Pfaffl, are hauntingly beautiful and also help create a credible environment.
While "War Horse" is flawed, it is remarkable to witness. It's a nice testimony to the power of live theater and imagination—after all, few art forms can use so little to make so much.
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