War Horse at Wales Millennium Centre grabs you by the heartstrings right from the start. It is a story of the bond between a boy and his horse. A bond so strong they would risk their lives for each other. War Horse is based on the novel written in 1982 by former children’s laureate, Michael Morpurgo. The book tells the story of the First World War through the eyes of a horse, called Joey. Unlike the book however, the play tells the story through the dialogue amongst the humans it encounters.
The Premise – War Horse at Wales Millennium Centre
The play starts in 1914, just before the start of the war, in rural Devon. We are first introduced to Joey as an unsteady gangly young foal. He is then sold at auction where a hard-up farmer wastes his mortgage money to buy him. His son Albert ends up caring for the horse and building an unbreakable bond. But then, against the wishes of Albert, his father sells Joey to the cavalry. During the war, Joey first serves on the British side and then after being captured, serves on the German side. Joey is eventually wounded and ends up tangled in barbed wire in no mans land and at risk of being shot dead by one of the officers. But Joey is never forgotten by Albert, who illegally, at the age of 16, enlists himself in the war with the sole purpose of finding his beloved horse.
Theatre Review – War Horse at Wales Millennium Centre
Whilst the story depicts the First World War, you are never expected to take sides. Ingeniously, as you see the characters from the viewpoint of the horse, all you see is the universal suffering for both. You see a war in which so many innocents endured unimaginable ends. Reportedly over ten million soldiers died in the First World War and probably as many horses too. The play skilfully portrays the poignancy and perils of war but cleverly stays clear of laying any blame.
The whole cast are brilliant. Thomas Dennis, who plays Albert, is fantastic. He starts out as a young farmers boy and grows in character and stature throughout. Similarly, Peter Becker who plays Friedrich Muller, a conflicted German soldier, is superb. Becker expertly portrays the demise of a man who through the trauma of war becomes so much less of a man than he had been before. Whilst the opposing main characters are clearly different, what they share is both a hatred for the war and a love of their horse. This serves as the platform for a play which primarily focuses on compassion, hope and reunion.
Unquestionably, this play is elevated thanks to the amazing puppetry by the Handspring Puppet Company. You can not possibly watch the play without being marvelled by it, from the gagling goose to the black crows to the magnificent horses. The horses, expertly manoeuvred, are mesmerisingly beautiful. They somehow manage to capture the whole character and essence of a horse showing feelings of playfulness, distress, panic, stubbornness and loyalty all perfectly. So much so, that when they are on stage, you just can’t take your eyes off them.
The staging is simple, but effective. It is undoubtedly the most stripped back staging I have seen. There is a long piece of ripped parchment paper hanging as a backdrop onto which black and white sketchings are projected to depict the scene. Also noticeable is that the whole set along with the actors outfits are completely void of colour. Everything is either black, brown or grey. But it works. It is the brave minimalist set that adds to the somber mood and befits the timing in which the story is set.
The musical score is beautifully melancholic and the intermittent old man singing folk songs along with his accordion only enhances the gloomy mood. Against the bleakness, there are however heartwarming touches of humour. These moments provide welcomed short spells of light relief in an otherwise heavy tale.
Our Verdict of War Horse at Wales Millennium Centre
There is no escaping that this is a bleak tale and as such you watch it with a heavy heart and likely a tear in your eye. It is of course felicitous that War Horse is touring the UK on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Thankfully it is a story so poignant and compassionately told that it is well worthy of honouring such an occasion.
War Horse is showing at the WMC until Saturday 28th July 2018
Tickets from £15.00
Booking at: www.wmc.org.uk
Thank you to Wales Millennium Centre for inviting us to see War Horse.
Note all photos are stock photos provided by the WMC.