WAR HORSE: Drama Based on the Novel by Michael Morpurgo. Adapted by Nick Stafford. Directors: Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris. Puppet Design, Fabrication & Direction: Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company. SHNCurranTheatre,445 Geary St. SF (btw Mason and Taylor).
WAR HORSE lights up the Curran Stage
The U.S.touring production of War Horse opened inSan Francisco last night with a bang, both literally and actually. The actual bangs were the simulated battles of World War I and the literal one was the standing ovation reception earned by a cast of about 40 with the astounding full sized puppets over shadowing the production values including the acting. That is not a criticism of the actors but they are upstaged, and rightfully so by marvelous intricate movement of the horses that leave you spellbound.
The journey of War Horse from a novel to the stage to an Oscar nominated movie is highly improbable. The novel written by Michael Morpurgo was brought to the attention of playwright Nick Stafford and directors Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott who were seeking a project where they could use puppets as the central characters. What better than Morpurgo’s story that was cleverly written through the eyes of a horse. Then by enlisting the enormous talents of Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler and their Handspring Puppet Company ofSouth Africa the project reached fruition. It opened inLondon in 2007, on Broadway 2011 winning a Tony Award, inToronto in 2012 and is still playing in those venues. It is certain the present touring production is receiving the same attention to details without stinting on production values.
It is a sentimental love story between Albert (Andrew Veenstra) and his horse Joey that begins in pre- WW I ruralEnglandmoving to the gritty, blood spattered battlefields ofFrance. The astounding horses are manipulated by teams of actors and given life like movements that make you forget that they inanimate. The star of the show is the chestnut horse Joey who is bought as a foal by Albert’s impractical father with the mortgage money. Over a period of two years Joey has to prove himself as a work horse before he is sold to the Army for duty in the cavalry. From that point on the producers pull out the stops with visuals projected on a mid-stage screen resembling a horse blanket, indicating time and place. This is supplemented with light and sound effects that emphasize the futility of war with bombs bursting and dead soldiers strewn about the stage to be feast for bird vulture puppets. In the war Joey is partnered with a black horse named Topthorn who shares his travails as they move into machinegun fire and barbed wire and end up working in the German Army.
Whereas the full size horse puppets are the stars of the show, we are treated to birds flying on tall poles, and a goose (manipulated by Gregory Manley) that adds the right touch of humor to a very tense drama. They also include inanimate mobile of tanks, huge guns and yards of barbed wire to the mayhem. The cease fire between the combatants in the trenches to rescue Joey from his encirclement in the wire brought applause from audience.
If a complaint is needed to detract from this laudatory review, it is that some of the dialog and most of the songs that should add pathos to the tale are lost in necessary bombs bursting and light flashing. Do not allow that statement to deter you from visiting this must see production. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including the intermission.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com