IF YOU took a deep breath, and stood a long way back from the mighty drama and spectacle of the National Theatre of Great Britain’s War Horse you might raise questions about its message and meaning.
War Horse - Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
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It’s a passionate reiteration of England’s great, endless mourning for its lost rural past, an imagined innocence blown to pieces in the mud and blood of Flanders. Then there’s something deeper; a story for our time about how human and animal wellbeing are somehow bound together.
What directors Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris have made of Michael Morpurgo’s story – together with the Handspring Puppet Company, and perhaps the most powerful, subtle and beautiful stage animals ever seen – is a drama of peace and war so vast in its reach, so gripping in its dramatic structure, and so breathtaking in its physical evocation of the horror of the Western Front, that it’s literally impossible to look away from the stage. Every element of the art-form comes together to tell the story of young Albert and his horse Joey, sent off to the front in 1914 – from the lighting, the sound, and the mighty horses, to the music, great surging English folk songs magnificently sung by the company. And when one horse finally collapses in death, there’s a second of utter hush, while we see the three puppeters rise out of the body, and back away like a departing soul; in one of many moments of theatrical greatness, in this unforgettable show.