by Michael Morpurgo adapted by Nick Stafford.
New London Theatre.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 31 Oct 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 12.45pm).
Captioned 12 Dec. 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0870 040 0046.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 April.
High, upreared and abutting fronts do the biz.
Shakespeare might have used words for action in Henry V’s battle scenes, but this National Theatre production, transferred to the New London, markedly uses theatrical equines, courtesy of Handspring Puppets’ large-scale creations animated by Toby Sedgwick’s extraordinarily detailed horse choreography.
First seen as a foal being broken-in by affection rather than the whip on a Devon farm in 1912, Joey develops into a fine half-thoroughbred before being sold as a First World War officer’s horse. But not before young Albert’s persuaded him to plough a strip on the Narracott farm, a skill that serves him well in the war that follows
With three puppeteers moving each stage of Joey, and three others his wartime companion and rival Topthorn, these canvas-covered skeletons achieve a remarkably detailed equine reality, allowing Joey to become the hero of events as he rears-up against cruel treatment, or in rivalry with another horse, charges alongside others in the battlefield, leaps (or is pathetically caught on) barbed-wire. Then, climactically, he faces a new military rival, the tank, as horse legs race around the stage, while a mad pattern of tank-tracks cover designer Rae Smith’s image-filled gash in the rear wall.
Towering over mere people, somehow the horses seem more human; certainly they have a Swiftian nobility. Partly it’s Sedgwick’s choreography – just watch a horse breathing after exertion. Partly it’s the human operators, like servants round a chief, partly a tendency to graft human feelings onto animals. And partly Joey’s reactions in something like human emotional response time, as with his last-moment volunteering for the plough in wartime France.
Inside all this is a young persons’ story, excusing coincidences to be frowned on in sterner stuff. Its narrative pulse is young Albert’s bonding with Joey and his determination to save him amidst quarrels within his family or among European nations. Some of the second act material slows this down; the story works best when the two are together or the search for Joey is paramount. Background wartime infill is more theatrical than dramatic. But the Devon scenes are finely-paced, while Kit Harington’s Albert and Handspring’s handiwork are outstanding.
Joey as a Foal -: Head: Rachel Leonard.
Heart: Alice Barclay.
Hind: Michael Brett.
Joey – Head: David Emmings or Jane Leaney.
Heart: Matthwew Burgess or Al Nedjari.
Hind: Laura Cubitt or Robin Guiver.
Topthorn – Head: Toby Olie or Jane Leaney.
Heart: Finn Caldwell or Al Nedjari.
Hind: Stephen Harper or Robin Guiver.
Coco: Robert Emmas, Nicholas Tizzard.
Heine: Rachel Leonard, Michael Brett.
Paulette: Alice Barclay.
Chapman Carter/Col Strauss/Sgt Fine: James Barriscale.
Ludwig: Michael Brett.
Captain Stewart/Rudi: Simon Bubb.
Veterinary Officer Martin: Finn Caldwell or Nicholas Tizzard.
Billy Narracott: Robert Emms.
Song Man/John Greig: Tim van Eyken.
Rose Narracott: Bronagh Gallagher.
Albert Narracott: Kit Harington.
Geordie: Stephen Harper or Al Nedjari.
Emilie: Bettrys Jones.
Bone/Gefreiter Karl/Major Callaghan: Gareth Kennerley.
Captain Nicholls: Tim Lewis.
Ted Narracott: Colin Mace.
David Taylor: Luke Norris.
Kavallerie Hauptmann Friedrich Muller: Patrick O’ Kane.
Dr Wilham Schweyk: Matthew Spencer.
Sergeant Allan: Nicholas Tizzard.
Sergeant thunder/Priest/Unteroffizier Klebb: Howard Ward.
Arthur Narracott/Soldat Manfred: Alan Williams.
Soldat Schmidt: Roger Wilson.
Goose: Finn Cal;dwell or Al Nedjari.
Directors: Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris.
Designer/Drawings: Rae Smith.
Lighting: Paule Constable.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Music: Adrian Sutton.
Music Director: Martin Lowe.
Puppet Design/Fabrication: Basil Jones, Adrian Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company.
Video: Leo Warner, Mark Grimmer for Fifty-Nine Productions Ltd.
Movement/Horse Choreography: Toby Sedgwick.
Company voice/Dialect work: Kate Godfrey, Jeannette Nelson.
German/French language coach: Simon Scardifield.
Associate director: Alex Sims.