Brilliant puppetry wins hearts in a canter
A world-class performance. Photo: Joseph Feil
War Horse National Theatre Of Great Britain and Global Creatures
The Arts Centre, Until March 3
THE National Theatre's War Horse is extraordinary theatre. Brilliant, bold, moving, it is a world-class fusion of performance, design and spectacular puppetry.
Based on the Michael Morpurgo novel, this tale of a boy and his horse caught up in World War I speaks directly to Australian experience - the Anzac legend, the emblematic heroism of Simpson and his donkey.
The action starts on the tranquil fields of Devon, where the young Albert Narracott (Cody Fern) watches his dad bid furiously for a handsome colt. Albert names the horse Joey and the bond between them grows as he is forced to retrain Joey from steed to beast of burden in a mere week.
War erupts. Joey is sold to the cavalry; his rider dies in action. Albert, distraught, enlists at 16 and descends into the hell of trench warfare, determined to find Joey at any cost.
The puppets and puppeteers capture the full range of equine movement and personality with astonishing vivacity and skill. With profound poignancy, objects and human bodies combine through the creative impulse to portray that opposite thing - the horror of using living beings as objects in the cause of annihilation.
A poised and spare stage pictures scenes from farming families and nostalgic songs to barking sergeants and slaughter on an industrial scale.
The lighting, too, has great emotive power: sepia-stained, smoky with nostalgia for the country scenes; sepulchral, strobing, stained with violence and, in yellows and greens, the putrefaction that follows it.
The performances are forceful and well-pitched to the large auditorium. Among them, Natasha Herbert's stalwart rural mother, Ian Bliss's broken courage as her husband, Andrew Tighe's heartsick German officer, and the dogged desire in Fern's boy-hero.
It's a terrific show.