Not often does a production come around that leaves you lost for words but after seeing the National Theatre’s production of War Horse at The Lowry I think most of the audience were left in awe at what they had just witnessed on stage.
A story of epic proportions it charts the life of Joey the horse from his early sale to a Devonshire farmer to befriending Albert his son and forming a bond that even war couldn’t break.
There is spectacular puppetry on show as we are presented with larger than life sized horses expertly crafted from cane and metal, skillfully brought to life by Handspring Puppet Company (founded by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones). The mechanical masterpieces are maneuvered by three performers, controlling the head, heart and hind respectively. You can’t help but marvel at the precision with which every horse movement is made-from the nervous breathing as they go into battle to the forceful rearing up at the sound of piercing gunshots.
It’s not just the puppetry that is outstanding here, it is the acting too. Great characterisation from Karen Henthorn as Rose Narracott the no-nonsense farmers wife, full of love for her husband and son trying to make right their wrongs and keep the family afloat. Lee Armstrong as Albert Narracott exudes an endearing innocence portraying a genuine love for his horse, which in turn has the audience feeling every bit of his emotion.
Other fine performances come from Peter Ash as nervy cousin Billy who just wants to make his Dad proud and Jason Furnival as Colonel Strauss, a German wrestling with his conscience and pining for his family back home.
Haunting folk music sang beautifully by Bob Fox in between scenes brings cohesion to the plot and also works well alongside Adrian Sutton’s emotive score. Lighting Director Paule Constable conjures up the mood of the battlefield effectively with flashes of searing white light breaking through the pallete of otherwise muted colours.
A minimal set adorns the vast Lyric stage of The Lowry recreating the English countryside and the dark war-torn trenches with the simple use of small props used by the ensemble. There’s a clever use of long wooden sticks held by cast members for paddock enclosures plus a basic doorframe and window to signify the exterior of the character’s houses.
War Horse hits home the real horrors of the Great War and how it affected everyone; men, women, children and those horses that went into battle. It presents a fitting tribute to the fallen heroes and none more so than in the poignant moment where the back projection turns drops of blood into a field of poppies.
This is a visual masterpiece, beautifully portrayed with a cinematic quality and one of the finest pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.
Runs until 18th January
The Lowry – Lyric Theatre
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays M50 3AZ
BOX OFFICE 0843 208 6005