The Liverpool Empire Theatre
November 15 – December 2, 2017
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Producer: The National Theatre
Director: Marianne Elliott
Cast Includes: Thomas Dennis, Jo Castleton, Peter Becker, Arinda Sadhra, Jasper William Cartwright, Bob Fox, Gwilym Lloyd, Elizabeth Stretton, Toyin Omari-Kinch, Andrew Hodges, William Ilkley` Ben Ingles.
Running Time 2 hrs 40 mins
The National Theatre adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, which is at The Liverpool Empire now, has been much anticipated and everything you have heard is true and more.
Delving deep into the underbelly of conflict, the story tells of Joey who is bought by Ted Narracott as a result of two feuding brothers trying to outdo each other (Gwilym Lloyd). Ted is a struggling farmer with a past and a drink problem. His son, Albert, falls hook, line and sinker for the foal and they develop a bond of total devotion until Narracott Snr sells Joey to the army for £100. Albert vows to bring Joey home and so the tale of war, loss, love and loyalty begins.
There is nothing left unturned here. The emotional impact is hard hitting, yet dappled with stark humour that glistens like brilliant sunlight through the falling leaves of interminable conflict. The set is almost bare, with a cloud-shaped screen offering potent imagery and the timeline offering a sense of place. It is the quite immaculate lighting design that creates the real atmosphere, along with the sound and the music. On occasion Bob Fox’s incredible singing voice, as he narrates the action through song, is almost worth the ticket price alone so impassioned is his performance.
Yet of the two-legged stars, Thomas Dennis is outstanding as he inhabits the role of Albert so completely it is as though he has been somehow body-snatched. His interaction not only with the chestnut hunter but also with his surroundings and colleagues, adds nothing but depth and resonance to this already most poignant of storylines.
Superb too is Peter Becker as Friedrich Muller, the German equine expert who shows the human face of the ‘enemy’ at war and underlines the fact that history is only ever written by winners. Becker’s teetering-on-the-edge-of-sanity portrayal is quite marvellous and contradicts joyously with preconceptions. With Jo Castelton’s Rosie Narracott adding strength and vitality in stark contrast to Elizabeth Stretton’s vulnerability as young Emilie, then the balances that are struck throughout mark this as work of true, all round artistic genius.
The real stars though are the puppets and their handlers, who are so skilled in their abilities, so dexterous in their movement and so as-one with their charges, their presence all but disappears after just a few moments and so the magic of that which is being seen increases all the more.
The National Theatre Production of War Horse, then, isn’t so much a night at the theatre as it is an experience; a beautiful, joyous, delight which highlights everything war enshrines and justifies all that is good in the human spirit: you will laugh, you will cry, you will empathise and sympathise.
A theatrical feast for the emotions and senses, this is a production which once seen, like the fallen, will never be forgotten.
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