War Horse pays tribute to the horses that fought in World War I

War Horse: Joey as a foal
War Horse: Joey as a foal.

Last night I saw War Horse at Lincoln Center. I’ve wanted to see it since reading reviews of the London production, so was delighted when I learned it was coming to New York this April.

I was not disappointed. The production is amazing, moving and a true tribute to the thousands of horses and mules that died during World War I.

Joey as a "full grown" horse
Joey as a "full grown" horse and his puppeteers.

The play is adapted from a children’s book written by Michael Morpurgo and published in 1982. The themes are simple: the love of a boy and his horse and the horrors of war — especially the horrors of modern war where machine guns, barbed wire and tanks made the war horse obsolete. The way the performance is delivered is anything but ordinary primarily because of the puppets that take center stage as the main characters — the horses.

These are not puppets as I’d ever imagined them. These are life-sized horses that are ridden in the performance. They express an amazing range of emotions through the twitch of their ears, the nuzzle of their muzzles and the subtlety of their movements. Each horse is managed by three puppeteers: one manages the head, one is the front legs and the third manages the rear legs. Amazingly, the “handlers” fade into the background and the horses come alive. Actually, more than alive in the conventional sense. The puppets convey emotions and tell the story without words.

Check out some scenes from the London production and then make sure you get to New York before the show closes in June. Don’t wait for the Spielberg movie — this needs to be experienced on stage.

The genius behind these puppets is a South African company called Handspring. Here the founders talk about their puppets.

Here is an interview with Toby Sedgewick, the Director of Movement and Horse Sequences.

4 thoughts on “War Horse pays tribute to the horses that fought in World War I

  1. It is coming to L.A. in June/July 2012, which is probably as close as I can hope for it to come to me. So my mom and I will be seeing it next year.

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