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War Horse review at Hippodrome Birmingham

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War Horse has already made it into the history books as the single most widely seen production in National Theatre history. Now, on the same weekend that its first foreign-language version opened in Berlin, an extensive British national tour has officially opened, too.

It is a thrilling piece of storytelling theatre that journeys into the heart of the First World War, viewed from the perspective of the horses that were also conscripted into the war effort, poignantly personalised in 16-year-old Albert’s relentless journey to find his beloved horse Joey who has been sold to the cavalry and shipped off to France to fight.

Playwright Nick Stafford and co-directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have created a timeless classic of theatre craft and art to tell its haunting story with a magical and vivid originality.

That’s partly thanks to the stunning physical realisation of the horses themselves, who are brought to life-size realisations in giant wood and metal puppet figures, inhabited and manipulated by three performers each (the original stage Joey has just been added to the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum).

While Rae Smith’s magnificent earthy design for the play’s many locations sometimes feels a little cramped and less expansive when viewed head-on on a proscenium stage rather than a thrust, the puppets remain a true marvel. And the meticulously drilled company bring warmth and immediacy to the characters, led by Lee Armstrong’s keen, passionate Albert. But the real stars are the rotating teams of puppet manipulators, who make Joey and Topthorn come to full neighing life.

With its entire run sold out before it opened in Birmingham, this is sure to be a smash hit for the National as it tours the UK and Ireland.

Production Information

Hippodrome, Birmingham, October 18-November 9, then touring until July 19

Author
Michael Morpurgo (adapted by Nick Stafford)
Directors
Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris (UK and Ireland tour, Alex Sims)
Producer
National Theatre, Handspring Puppet Company
Cast includes
Lee Armstrong, David Fleeshman, Steven Hillman, Karen Henthorn, Nisa Cole, Martin Wenner, Peter Ash
Running time
2hrs 40mins

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