An unanticipated bid on a horse at a 1914 English auction sets the stage for this timeless friendship between horse and man. Young Albert is given responsibility to take care of his father’s new horse, Joey. As World War I starts to unfold though, Joey is sold to the army. Albert is broken-hearted and eventually, though he is not old enough to enlist, sets off to find Joey and bring him home.
Perhaps the greatest feat of War Horse on the stage is the masterful puppetry. When done this well, it opens up the imagination for adults and children alike. Joey weighs 120 pounds and is maneuvered by three people (the head, heart, and hind). The ears and tail move because horses usually emote themselves that way. In the scene where Joey is transformed from a foal to a full-grown horse, the audience oohed and awed. The large structure and realness of it all was fascinating. Eventually you forget there are actors manipulating the movements of the puppet, which is a sign of true achivement and captivation by the War Horse cast and story.
Photo by Brinkhoff/Mogenburg
Although the set was not complicated, it had a lovely scroll of parchment paper that hung as a partial backdrop. On it, scenery was displayed, as well as dates of when things were taking place. The lighting and sound design mixed well to portray life on an English farm, as well as war-torn times. Old fashioned cameras that shot off sparks when a picture was taken, guns, grenades, and tanks also helped illustrate how WWI looked and sounded.
Certain scenes stuck out as precious moments: the auction, Albert teaching Joey how to plow, and Joey stuck in the barbed wire. Overall, the relationship between a boy and his horse was much more intriguing than some of the drawn-out war scenes. Just as Albert and Joey were reunited and tears started to flow, the moment had passed though. A longer pause would have pulled more weight.
It should come as no surprise that War Horse won five Tony Awards, including Best Play. Alex Morf, who played Albert Narracott, displayed a lovely bond with Joey. He was playful, compassionate, and treated the horse as his companion. The music in the play sung by John Milosich, with Nathan Koci accompanying him on the accordion, added a nice element. The line “Only remembered for what we have done” opened and closed the play.
For a night out which will stretch your imagination and allow you to look at a staged show in a new way, check out War Horse.
Through June 23
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.