Who would have ever thought that two life size horse puppets made out of wood and steel and leather would win the hearts of critics and audiences alike? Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company obviously did.
They are responsible for the incredible equine puppets operated by three actors – horses that become living and breathing specimens – reacting and seemingly real – horses that you actually care for in the spectacular epic production of “War Horse” a joint production of the National Theatre of Great Britain and Lincoln Center Theater now playing at the Vivian Beaumont.
Remembering that “War Horse” started out as a young adult novel written by Michael Morpurgo we can forgive some of the more manipulative aspects of the simple story and the many coincidences, especially towards the end, that occur. Despite this minor quibble, the story is vital and compelling. A story of one boy’s devotion and love for his horse set against the backdrop of World War I.
When the drunken Ted Narracott (Boris McGiver) spends his mortgage money to outbid his more successful brother Arthur (T. Ryder Smith) to buy Joey (the somewhat wild horse) and brings him home, his wife Rose (Alyssa Bresnahan) is so furious she makes their son Albert (a remarkable Seth Numrich) take care of him until Joey is strong enough to resell.
It’s amazing how intuitive animals are with people. Joey will have nothing to do with the father but bonds slowly and beautifully with Albert. And when the greedy father learns that the Cavalry is willing to pay 100 pounds for a good steed he sells Joey who is sent off to France to fight the Germans which propels Albert to leave home and enlist in the Army to find and to be reunited with his best friend Joey. It’s a tale that will engage you to the point of tears.
There is a cast of thirty five actors filling the mammoth stage. A stage necessary for the rearing horse battles, the tank and machine gun effects that show the horrors of war to both humans and horses alike. Horses that are tragically caught up in barbed wire traps set by the Germans.
The overhead animation and projections (59 Productions), lighting design (Paule Constable) and wonderful music (Adrian Sutton) add to the overall spectacular scope of the piece which is beautifully directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris.
Particular mention must be made of Madeleine Rose Yen who plays the young French girl Emile, Peter Hermann – a German Commander whose love for horses equals that of Albert’s, Stephen Plunkett as Lieutenant Nicholls who sketches throughout and promises to take care of Joey in France, and the Goose who also has great intuition regarding humankind.
There is nothing that can surpass this must see event. War Horse is an astonishing achievement. www.WarHorseOnBroadway.com Photo: Paul Kolnik
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