WARHORSE: Michael Morpurgo, adapted Nick Stafford
NT on Tour
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval.
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, Hippodrome Theatre Birmingham, 18 10 13
An extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful theatre event.
I now completely understand what all the fuss is about. WARHORSE is a most marvellous example of theatre storytelling. A great big emotional story unfolds, told by a strong acting company and a magic box of theatrical delights – music, lighting, marvellous setting and setting-effects, sound, video, smoke, silhouette . . .
And, of course, the horses.
For this is the story of Joey, the beautiful hunter who learns to pull a plough, which saves his life. And it’s a story about Joey’s relationship with his owner (the word doesn’t do the relationship justice) Albert. It is about their unqualified love, about their parting, about their coming-together again. And WARHORSE is about the unrelenting horror of war – which we see through the innocent eyes of Joey – an extraordinary effect, for which we owe Michael Morpurgo, the novel writer, a great debt of gratitude.
The horses are magnificent creations from Handspring Puppet Company, and beautifully animated by teams of puppeteers. For most of the first part, Lee Armstrong as Albert Narracott builds the relationship with Joey. The love is manifest, and I would challenge anyone to not be moved as Albert teaches Joey to feed from him. In the second half the relationship with Joey is carried forward in a different way by Capt Muller; Muller’s love for the horses grows from his respect for them. Martin Wenner (Muller) enables us to see his growing respect for the animals’ nobility, which becomes love, blossom into his anti-war actions.
With hugely skilled story-telling skills, Morpurgo, Nick Stafford (adapter), and the entire team drive home the message, while sweeping us along on the crests of emotional waves.
This tapestry is held together by a series of songs, some full length, some very short. These all have the exquisite toughness of traditional English songs (folk songs if you like). And they are stunningly sung by Bob Fox who has us holding our breath before he has completed his first bar of his first song.
Joey as a foal: Rebecca Killick, Alex Moran, Helen MacFarlande
Joey head: Thomas Gilbey or Richard Vorster or Peter Twose
Joey heart: Michael Humphrey or John Leader or Tom Norman
Joey hind: Andrew Keay or Tom Larkin or Suzanne Nixon
Topthorn head: Oliver Grant or Richard Vorster or Peter Twose
Topthorn heart: Joe Darke or John Leader or Tom Norman
Topthorn hind: Linford Johnson or Tom Larkin or Suzanne Nixon
Coco heart: Joe Darke or Michael Humphreys or John Leader or Tom Norman
Coco hind: Linford Johnson or Andrew Keay or Tom Larkin or Suzanne Nixon
Heine heart: James Alper
Heine hind: Peter Ash
The Goose: Joseph Richardson
Captain Stewart / Ludwig: James Alper
Albert Narracott: Lee Armstrong
Billy Narracott / Unteroffizier Klebb: Peter Ash
Paulette: Emily Aston
Emilie: Nisa Cole
Arthur Narracott: David Fleeshman
Thomas Bone / Sergeant Fine: Adam Foster
Song Man: Bob Fox
Chapman Carter / Colonel Strauss: Jason Furnival
Lieutenant Nicholls / Dr Schweyk: Finn Hanlon
John Greig / Vet Officer Martin: Karl Haynes
Rose Narracott: Karen Henthorn
Ted Narracott: Steven Hillman
Nurse Annie Gilbert: Rebecca Killick
Matron Callaghan: Helen NacFarlane
Priest / Sergeant Thunder: Sean McKenzie
David Taylor: Alex Moran
Johann Schnabel / Sentry Shaw: Joseph Richardson
Klausen: Paul Simpson
Geordie: Gavin Swift
Sergeant Allan / Soldat Manfred: Simeon Truby
Hauptmann Friedrich Muller: Martin Wenner
Directors: Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris
Designer / Drawings: Rae Smith
Puppet Design and Fabrication: Basil Jones, Adrian Kohler (for Handspring Puppet Company)
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Director of Movement: and Horse Choreography: Toby Sedgwick
Puppetry Directors: Basil Jones, Adrian Kohler
Video Designers: Leo Warner, Mark Grimmer (for 59 Productions)
Music: Adrian Sutton
Songmaker: John Tams
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt