As the National Theatre’s production of War Horse has left its London home for the final time, I thought that now would be a pertinent moment to write something about it.
I was lucky enough to see the play live when I turned eighteen and it’s something that I’ll never forget. There are so many moments that have lingered in my mind and that I still find myself thinking about – especially the point in the play when the foal Joey becomes the adult Joey. It’s a mastery of puppetry, technology and drama – full to the brim with feeling; soaring joy, amazement, wonder. It’s certainly the first time I have ever audibly gasped aloud and clutched at the armrests of my seat in reaction to a piece of drama.
These are the things which have stayed with me in the three years since I saw the play. First, the artistry that comes from the puppets. They’re so lifelike, it’s easy to forget about the men behind them. There are small nuances that make it all the more real – a flicker of an ear, a slight movement of the head, a gentle whickering sound. Second, the laughter that comes and lightens some of the moments, even when a little unexpected. The play is not misery after misery, far from it; but the balance is there, between laughter and the quieter moments that rest a little heavier on the audience – something which is welcome, I think.
When I saw the play, I found myself overwhelmed by it, my heart in my mouth and tears falling freely as the narrative unfolded on the stage, but it was such a release of emotion that it was cathartic – something I needed to do.
A relative saw the film a few weeks ago and said, “It’s so much more important, isn’t it? Once you’ve been to France..” and perhaps it does add something else to the piece, another sort of knowledge, a different perspective and a different focus. The book too was something completely new as far as WWI narratives go – told through the eyes of an animal. A different voice, a new experience – but it remains still fresh now, despite the wealth of stories that have been brought to the forefront.
In my eyes however, the play stands tall of its own accord – a wonderfully moving piece of drama that still leaves you with hope at the fall of the curtain.