Bristol Theatre News

War Horse at The Bristol Hippodrome Review – National Theatre National Tour

War Horse UK Tour
Bristol Hippodrome

Verdict: 10/10

War Horse is a profoundly moving piece of theatre that brings the full sorrow and horror of WWI to the stage through expert ensemble storytelling.

It has been adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s story of the same name, with the innovative style of the National Theatre and beautiful puppetry in conjunction with Handspring puppet Company. It tells the story of Joey, a horse bought for war after being sold by young Albert’s drunkard father. Joey is then sent to the front line in France, but Albert enlists and goes on a dangerous quest to find him and bring him home again. The backdrop of war darkly overshadows a story about relationships, whether they be difficult family dynamics, within the army or the much simpler connection of young people with horses – Joey being as iconic as Pegasus in this production.

Though the audience were reduced to tears throughout, this is sadness without sentiment. It’s dark and all the more shocking for being based on a real war with real death and real horses. Chinks of light and humour were peppered throughout and those moments were most welcome.

The set and lighting is atmospheric from the start, as tiny birds make their way high in the sky through the early morning mist. Projected illustrations create most of the set and dramatic moments are punctuated with folk song.

It takes 12 puppeteers to play the main horses Joey and Topthorn which they do in nightly rotation. The tight knit teams are barely noticeable. All you see on stage are the horses. From the swish of a tail to the galloping, thundering hooves, these horses are real. They fill the stage. They are shot, maimed and die and the audience feels every painful second.

Director Tom Morris took to the stage at the end of the performance to mark the tenth anniversary of the show. He told the audience that it was us that made the connection, bringing the animals to life. But without the outstanding talent of the puppeteers, Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler’s design and Toby Sedgwick’s horse choreography, our imaginations would have been severely limited to some pieces of wood and brown canvas.

Our Man of the Match has to go to Billy Irving as The Goose, who didn’t even stop bringing the impertinent creature to life, even throughout director Morris’ speech.

War Horse is a brutal show. It’s good, really really good, but there are times when it’s impossible to even look at the stage as the full horror of war and loss is raw in front of you. Men die in action, horses die in battle and people are shot on stage. With that in mind, our age recommendation is a minimum of twelve years upwards despite Morpurgo originally writing his story for children.

War Horse is at The Bristol Hippodrome from now until Saturday 11 November 2017.

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