Since it's Veteran's Day today, I thought I would share my review of the National Tour of War Horse currently at the Kennedy Center. I have been wanting to see the play ever since I went to London in 2009 and it was the must see play. It has been playing in NYC for the past year and a half however lack of funds for an overnight trip meant having to wait until the show came to D.C. I'm sure most are familiar with the play based on a children's book about a boy whose father buys a horse at auction, then sells it to the British Army on the eve of WW1 and the story of how the boy Albert runs away to join the army and find his beloved horse, Joey. Steven Spielberg made it into a movie a few years ago and I confess after seeing the movie I was afraid the play would be as saccharin as the movie.
However, the producers of the play have managed to put on a play that is childlike in it's story-telling yet starker and more emotional than it's cinematic counterpart. Part of this is due to the stark, minimalist set design. Doors that are used to denote houses, beams that are used for stables and over the stage, a large swath of paper used to show drawings of the places and dates of the events:from Devon all the way to Switzerland. While the acting is competent, the characters are all a bit one-dimensional. Standouts include the British officer who buys Joey and Albert's sergeant in the Army.
However, as the title reflects the real reason to see this play is the magnificent horse puppets from Handspring. worked by 3 actors, one moving the head and two inside the animal, they are at once obvious and yet after seeing the lifelike workings, one begins to see the animal not the actors. From the breathing, to the ear twitches to the flick of a tail, not one action seemed out of place. In fact, these puppets become more human at the end then any of the real actors and I found myself caring for them the most. Also seeing the animals during the war pulling carts, dying from exhaustion and trapped in barbed wire, you see the horror and folly of the WWI and indeed of war itself.
I went into War Horse thinking it would be a quaint children's tale and found myself more emotional moved by a mere puppet than I had imagined.
If you get the chance do see it.