Theatre Review: War Horse, Brighton Centre
A little warning before you read this: there are quite a lot of spoilers...
A fragment of scrap paper dominates the stage. For the next two hours and forty minutes it will be our timeline and guide for the events that unfold.
Adapted by Nick Stafford, War Horse is playing at the Brighton Centre from 25th January to the 10th February, based on the original novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo. A cacophony of sounds brings the tragedy of World War One to life on stage, with impressive puppets provided by the Handspring Puppet Company.
Act one largely relies on unexpected comedic moments. In the midst of the sweep of faux-patriotism, and a ridiculous bet to make a horse pull a cart, a goose provides laughter as it constantly finds itself locked outside, wanting to get in. (The occasional attacks on the cast members also provide light relief.)
We are drawn in by the story of Albert, a sixteen year old ‘farmer’s boy’ from Devon. The relationship between Albert and his horse, Joey, pulls at the heart strings of the viewer. Meanwhile, movements are afoot, giving a sense of impending doom over the rest of the play.
I was completely captivated right up until the end, with act one. From the word “go”, the cast spun a story that seemed to cast a spell over the audience. No one was on a mobile, moving about (although there was some talking), and we were completely enchanted.
Act Two has far darker tones. It opens with an omniscient narrator singing songs that give the play shape and form. His voice is foreboding, warning of the tale ahead.
By now, Albert and Joey have been split up. What is intensely striking throughout the narrative is the level of empathy that has developed between the two of them. It is a sentiment reflected later through the dual narrative of this second act: a German soldier and a French citizen make friends.
This empathy becomes highly developed within the audience; the harsh sounds of horses suffering and the continuing gun shots, flashes and smoke combine to impress upon us the reality of the tragedy of war. The use of pathetic fallacy is also second to none.
The magic of the final scene ensures that the audience are on their feet when the curtain comes down. The most vital members of the play may only be puppets, but they are spectacularly brought to life for the audience, who in turn were brought to tears.
The whole of the second act bought tears to my eyes, too. Though the animals are albeit puppets, they form the crucial part of the show. But if we cannot treat our animals well, then what does it say about us? The end of the First World War may have been a century ago, yet animal abuses are still the same. I had the biggest smile on my face when Joey and Albert were reunited, to end the play.
A similarly magical fictional character once said that “happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”. If we could turn the same light towards kindness, especially with animals, then maybe this world would be a better place. War is a tragedy, but we would do well to remember that our ‘enemies’ are just as human as we are.
As I leave, I feel oddly reflective; it’s not very like me to be like that. Since the hundred years that have passed, what have we achieved, or even changed? War is a tragedy, ultimately avoidable, yet we go around in circles. It’s futile.
That is why I think everyone should see this show.
Written by Lydia.
With thanks to the Brighton Centre for the Press Photos.
Disclaimer: The tickets for War Horse were provided for free, in exchange for this review. But the opinions of Lydia are completely her own.