War Horse: The stage show

As a wedding present, lovely Aunty Sue and Uncle Roger bought us tickets to see War Horse at The Civic in Auckland.

It was a wonderfully thoughtful gift because it was something to look forward to after the wedding – so it certainly helped to beat the post-wedding blues!

I love horses, so naturally I watch horse movies fairly regularly. Unfortunately, they tend to be filled with inaccuracies (as outlined in my blog Top 10: Flaws in Horse Films), which can be distracting. Therefore, War Horse was not one of my favourite films.

But I am here to tell you that whether you loved or hated the War Horse movie and quite frankly, whether you like horses or not, you will ADORE the War Horse stage show.

I promise you!

It was the most moving experience. I sobbed from the first scene through to the intermission, and then cried all the way through the second part too.

If you don’t know already, War Horse is about a horse named Joey – a Clydesdale crossed Thoroughbred – who has a special bond with his owner, Albert.

Sadly, Joey must be sent to war to carry soldiers into battle. So Albert lies about his age to be sent overseas in the hope of being rejoined with his beloved horse.

While there were some overly-cheesy elements to the story, ultimately it was brought back down to earth by the dark backdrop of WWI.

The horses:
I thought the actors controlling the horses would be dressed in black lycra in the hope of camouflaging themselves. However, they are embraced within the scene by dressing them in similar colours to the horse, but in costumes typical of the time.

For example, the actor manipulating Joey’s head wore farming clothes of the era when the scene takes place in Devon. Then, when they are in the war scene, she has mud and ash strewn across her.

I think that’s why you barely notice them – they’re included in the story rather than asking the audience to ignore them.

This doesn’t take away from the realism at all. The creators must have spent months or years studying horse behaviour, because the horses’ reactions were remarkably accurate.

They rear, they buck, they jump, they spook, they twitch, they flick their tail, they bite, they fall… Stunning!

You truely do forget you’re looking at a pretend horse – they were so realistic! It was beautiful.

I’M CHOKING UP AGAIN JUST REMEMBERING IT. I actually have tears in my eyes while I write this.

It was incredible seeing the actors ride the horses too. The horse’s legs are galloping, with the thud of hooves echoing and the backdrop racing past them.

The details:
The stage transforms seamlessly from the Devon countryside to the battle fields of WWI, with a white ‘cloud’ (which is actually a strip of torn paper) permanently above the stage. Projected on to the cloud is the backdrop of each scene, such as the tops of the Devon cottages or horses charging into battle in France.

It’s the perfect amount of subtle detail to set the scene while being easy to change completely.

Despite jumping from rural Devon to the battle fields of France and back, the scene changes blended so well. For example, supporting actors dressed in farming gear held the wooden fence up to keep Joey in his field in Devon. Then, as though a stiff wind blew them all, they gracefully scattered and reformed with their wooden fence becoming the bow of the boat that transports Joey to war.

How did anyone even begin to imagine these details? Genius.

To help you forget that you’re in a theatre hall, flashing lights and loud bangs simulate the gunfire, fog fills the stage for early morning scenes, and the point-of-view changes throughout the story too.

Sometimes we’re looking into the pitch darkness with the soldiers – their backs facing us -and the tension builds as we expect the enemy to appear before them/us at any moment.

It’s these details that make this stage show so emotional. It actually brings the horror of WWI into the room, with the heartbreak of friendships and loss running all the way through it.

This was one of the most moving and enjoyable moments in my life. I would love to see War Horse again, and I would like to see other stage shows too.

I think what sets War Horse apart is that it wasn’t an over-the-top theatrical, drama-school play. Nor was it a musical, which I don’t think I would have enjoyed quite so much.

It was remarkable.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being in at The Civic and being entertained along with hundred of other people. It was social and so enjoyable – just like the old days!

Thank you for coming to Auckland! It was such a beautiful stage play, with no detail missed or gone unnoticed.

Tickets will be available for a little longer, so buy your tickets now! You must go!