Last Tuesday I was invited to see stage play adaptation of War Horse at New London Theatre. I received the invitation before Christmas and was ecstatic when I read it, as the play has been looming over me for a while!
First, a little back story. As regular readers probably know I work in visual effects industry for movies. My company was working on the visual effects for War Horse the movie (2011) when I just arrived in London. That was the first time I learned about War Horse, from the movie that was adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo. At the time I did not know what it was about, except that it’s about a horse that’s probably involved in a war (doh!), and that to make the movie they could not possibly use real horse at one of the scenes because they did not want any horse get hurt. (So if you’ve watched or intend to watch it, you can probably guess which scene it is. All effects/3D horse! Can you tell? :)
That way the book has been on my radar, though since I’m not a fan of war stories, any kind of war stories, I never really intend to read the book. The play though, intrigued me. Why would anyone make a stage play about horses?! How big of a challenge is that?! I read and saw posters about the puppets and thought they might work like puppets from Sesame Street of some sort. So I was in for a total shock, when I finally saw the stage play with my own eyes.
First of all, and most importantly, the horses, OMG. The puppetry of the horses is done by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company and it is something that has to be seen to be believed! They were sooo life-like that sometimes I forgot that they were not real horses. There was so much attention to details, like the breathing of the horses, and the little movement of their ears and their tails, even their neighing sound, the horse-y snorts and the blows. You can see the puppeteers holding the horse puppets but at times it felt like the horses were dragging the humans. It was absolutely amazing. At certain points my jaw was literally dropping, literally. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was beyond what I expected.
As an added bonus my companion of the night has read the book, just before the play (he actually started to read the book before I invited him to come with me, thus it was absolutely the right timing), so he was able to tell me the difference between the book and the play (for more of War Horse stage vs page we recommend this piece). As I learned earlier, the book is told from the horse point of view, while it is not the case for the stage play. So they did need to make a few adjustments for that — adding scenes and combining some characters.
As wonderful the first part of the play was, I thought the second part wasn’t as strong. My first problem was that we came upon some characters who speak French and German, which I did not understand one bit! Though it felt quite original as the war brought us to meet British and German soldiers, along with French peasants, the non-English dialogues were lost on me. My companion understands French and he has also read the book, so he liked it more. We both agreed though that the ending wasn’t as dramatic as we expected. I am now curious how the movie has handled that, and will probably watch it soon to find out.
All in all we absolutely enjoyed the stage play of War Horse, and if you get a chance I’d definitely recommend you to go see it. I have seen lots of plays and musicals and I would say that War Horse takes the trophy for the best use of props! Unlike the usual case, there’s no lead actor/actress here as such, because the horses were the main characters. And what wonderful characters they were!
We were not allowed to take photos, so pictures are taken from the War Horse website. Hope they entice you even more to watch it:
You can also see snippets of the movement of the horse in the video: