The National Theatre presented their version of War Horse at the Sunderland Empire from Wednesday 30th April 2014 to Saturday 17th May 2104. My wife and I went along to the Thursday 8th May 2014 performance.

War Horse Theatrical Poster

War Horse Theatrical Poster

War Horse is based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo and was adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. The actual novel is now nearly 30 years old and surprisingly was not an initial success. However, the amazing transformation of the novel onto the stage and the mesmerising performance craftsmanship of the Handstring Puppet Company assured its West End success and world wide acclaim. Through the innovative stage production, and the spell binding Spielberg movie, the War Horse novel has blossomed from literary obscurity to a bestseller.

The spectacle of the puppetry on the stage was extraordinary. We have not seen anything like it before. Not only did we witness extremely life-like horses but also birds in the air and a pet goose amongst others. At no time were you looking at the mechanics of the puppets, so convincing was their portrayal that you actually believed they were living and breathing real animals. The simple but effective sets did not detract from the scenes and the music which accompanied the action was appropriate and well produced. We were treated to cavalry charges as well as the appearance of a tank! All in all it was a visual delight with the actors and puppets seamlessly working together.

The story tracing the journey of the horse from its humble beginnings on a farm through the dreadful butchery of the trenches during the First World War and his reunion with his owner is both a heart warming story and a chronicle of the awful horrors of war. I can only echo the words of the author himself when he says that War Horse is not simply a show or a play about a war, a horse and a boy. It is an anthem for peace, and reflects a universal longing for a world without war. In the midst of the First World War commemorations and the seemingly endless news reports on the media from the theatres of war that exist in the world today, how true these words are.

Charlie Walton

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