I am still a little speechless. After watching last night’s performance of War Horse from the second row, I felt almost immersed in the story, and I could not believe how much emotion a puppet could generate. For those of you who haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing the show, it tells the story of Joey, a noble and devoted horse, as he grows from foal to stallion in the care of a teenaged boy, Albert, before being sold to the British Army as World War I breaks out. A devastated Albert joins the army in an improbable effort to find his horse, and somehow on that stage we get to see the war unfold around the horse and the boy as they endure years of fighting before a protracted finale that has the whole audience fighting back tears. Except for my daughter and I who were sobbing openly in the second row.
I am not much into war stories. But this one was all about emotion, and that is something that engages me every time. We see the struggle of Albert’s father who buys Joey in a fit of sibling rivalry, and sells him for money at the cost of losing his son. We see Albert’s mother, trying to compensate for her drunk of a husband in loving her son. We see the naïve optimism of men going off to fight, and then trying to come to grips with the senselessness of their task. And the same human conflicts of the enemy German soldiers, who were no different than the British except that they fought for a Kaiser instead of a King. And through this all we see the horses, mainly Joey and the majestic Topthorn, as they try their best to cope with all the human insanity surrounding them.
The story and emotions are revealed through some amazing theatrical wizardry. Joey is a skeletal puppet, brought to life by 3 visible puppeteers who somehow blend in so you forget they are there. We know something of horses in my family, since my girls rode for a while, and it was astounding to see how this team managed to capture small nuances that made the horse so real. Joey grows from a colt to a stallion before your eyes. You see Joey tremble, breathe, snort, struggle, and give in. The technical artistry is truly amazing.
Now, I am sappy at the best of times, but you can see there was a lot there for me to work with. And my youngest, who saw the show with me, is no better. We spent the entire time either watching in rapt attention, or holding on to each other crying. That’s a pretty good ride, all for only $45 each, which is what we paid for our second row seats. They were located on a side aisle, and I think the reduced price implies that they are not considered great seats. But we could see the entire stage, and although the view might have been better a little farther back, I just loved the feeling of being immersed in this production. It gave the performance huge sense of impact for me, so I would recommend those seats in a heartbeat. I did, however, hear someone in the front seat say that they couldn’t see all the way to the back of the stage, so be sure to avoid the front row.
We gave this show 5 stars, 2 thumbs up, and a couple of hooves too. Try to get out to see it, and let us know if you cried over a puppet, too.