War Horse is an epic WWI war story about a boy and his horse adapted from British author Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel of the same name. Nick Stafford has stunningly adapted the novel in association with Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. Having won a multitude of awards, the production is now being seen by audiences around the English-speaking world and also in Berlin. Steven Spielberg made an Academy Award nominated film. I purposely missed the film because I wanted to see the show in all its theatrical glory. Not since Nicholas Nickleby have I been so enthralled by a piece of theatre.
The show has lots of things going for it: a talented cast, grand period music (Adrian Sutton), lovely graphics, sets and drawings (Rae Smith) and animation design (59 Productions), brilliant lighting design (Paule Constable), and the magical horse design and choreography by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones for the Handspring Puppet Company. There are literally hundreds of people from the National Theatre of Great Britain who can claim credit in its creation. The Center Theatre Group of Los Angeles is also to be thanked for bringing the show to the Ahmanson with its cast of hundreds.
The plot is fairly simple, a story of a boy, Albert (Andrew Veenstra) and his horse, Joey. Albert raises the horse from foal to adult only to see Joey sold to the British army and taken away to fight on the fields of France and Germany. Albert follows the horse and spends the play trying to find him. They both go through harrowing times in Europe and the show does a fantastic job of showing us the horrors of war, specifically WWI. This is all accomplished by lights, sounds, projections, and amazing acting.
The true magic of the show, besides the moving story, is in the creation and the choreography of the horses. From almost the beginning the puppet horses, manipulated by hidden humans, become real for us. The movements, the twitches, the affections of the horses are so real you can’t help but be moved. There is even a subplot of the relationship of two of the horses that start as enemies and become friends. The moment when the foal transforms into the adult horse caused me to gasp, it was so magnificent. But the show is filled with such moments.
War Horse will play at the Ahmanson Theatre until July 29. Don’t miss it!