Theatre review – War Horse at the Lowry

A (by no means exhaustive) list of popular films and programmes that traumatised me as a child:

  • Dumbo
  • E.T.*
  • Born Free
  • Dot and the Kangaroo
  • Watership Down

They all have one thing in common – creatures and animals in challenging and sad situations. *Ok, technically E.T. was an alien but he’s pretty much in that category.

The last title (I can’t bear to even type it out again), is top of the trauma list. ‘That’ song (the name of which I cannot type lest it lead to floods of tears), used to send me behind the sofa to cry when I was little. It still would.

A (by no means exhaustive) list of popular films and programmes I have vowed never to watch, becoming aware of them when I was old enough to know better:

  • Tarka the Otter
  • The 9 Lives of Thomasina
  • The Lion King
  • Marley and Me
  • War Horse

See, I came to it.

Troubled as I am by my sensitivities to our furry, hairy, scaled, feathered…erm tusked and hooved friends, there is no way on this earth I will sit down with a bag of maize based onion rings (popcorn is literally not my bag) and subject myself to the film War Horse. The title screams out sad animal.

And I have to say, I allowed my ridiculous drama sensitivities to influence my thoughts on going to see the stage play.

However, the theatre-lover in me allowed myself to be taken in by the promise (yes promise – you know who you are) that puppets couldn’t possibly invoke woe and despair in me (that person obviously didn’t know me when Animal from The Muppets was my number 1 fear in life).

Furthermore, they didn’t reckon with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, Puppetry Director, Matt Forbes, and the wonderful actors bringing Joey to life in front of our eyes last night.

The National Theatre’s production of War Horse first visited The Lowry in 2013 and so I had managed five years of stubbornness and resolve.

The heart-warming/wrenching story centres on the character of Albert Narracott (Thomas Dennis), his horse Joey and their journey throughout the First World War.

Thomas Dennis as Albert Narracott, with Joey

It’s certainly no spoiler to say that this journey is not a smooth one, the narrative taking audiences to the brink with its highly emotive highs and lows along the way.

Jo Castleton as Rose, Gwilym Lloyd as Ted

And is not a stretch to suspend your disbelief (more’s the pity) at all. I gave it my all I’m telling myself it was a mechanical puppet, it was a mechanical puppet, it was a mechanical puppet.

No use – I was in tears by the second scene and nothing ‘sad’ had even happened.

The attention to detail in bringing Joey and the other horses to life (yes, you have more to contend with) is just staggering – a subtle swoosh of the tail, a flicker of the ears; the senses are even tricked into seeing and hearing the horses breathe.

And then there’s the goose. Thank goodness for the comedy goose – watch out for the goose!

Billy Irving (Goose)

The goose and indeed the sergeant major bring the laughs and light relief and to be fair there are many moments where sadness gives way to smiles, particularly with the boyish innocence of Albert who by the end of the production is indeed a man whilst managing to retain a wonderful air of vulnerability and warmth.

Thomas Dennis as Albert Narracott, with Joey

The actors, lighting, sound and set design take you straight to the battlefields of the First World War, and horses aside (yes, I managed to tear my focus away from those woe-inducing creatures), the production is truly an assault on the senses and emotions – and I mean that in the most positive way possible.

Special mention must also go to our musical ‘narrator’, Bob Fox who, as ‘Songman’ takes us from one period of time and scene and into the next. And beautifully so.

Bob Fox as Songman

Stock up on your resolve and tissues, and don’t (I swear the phrase came to me before realised the abomination that is this pun) look a gift horse in the mouth, by not taking advantage of War Horse’s glorious return to Salford.

On a two week run until Saturday 30 June, head to the Lowry website here for all information and booking details.

If I can do it, you can…

and I’m so glad I did.

Dumbo can still do one though.


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