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War Horse review at Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury – ‘continues to thrill’

Thomas Dennis, Tom Stacy, Lucas Button and Lewis Howard. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Thomas Dennis, Tom Stacy, Lucas Button and Lewis Howard in the UK tour of War Horse. Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Ten years on from its premiere at the National Theatre, and after a subsequent seven-year run in the West End, War Horse is galloping back across Britain in a tour that has dates already stretching into 2019.

It long ago set the record for the most widely seen production in NT history and will now be adding to its legion of admirers.

Part play, part spectacle, War Horse is a piece of total theatre that has rightly become legendary: it both knocks out the senses and pierces the heart.

Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris’ production, now overseen by Katie Henry, has been slightly trimmed in scale for its latest tour – there are no stage revolves anymore to help propel the show’s cinematic flow.

But it maintains its epic reach and impact, thanks to its immense sense of physicality and the astonishingly life-like appearances of its puppet horses, stunningly designed by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company and choreographed by Toby Sedgwick.

Joey and Topthorn, the two lead horses whose journey to the fighting fields of France in the First World War we follow, remain the stars of the show, as manipulated by rotating teams of three people. Their skill is to become invisible, even as we are always aware that humans are driving each horse.

They are surrounded by a superb ensemble acting company, who turn this into an epic act of community theatremaking. Thomas Dennis brings a tender youthfulness to Albert, whose devotion to Joey leads him on a search to find him again in France. While Bob Fox underscores and underpins it all with his gorgeous accordion and vocal accompaniment of Adrian Sutton’s beautiful folk score.

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The NT's landmark hit continues to thrill in a new slightly streamlined production