THEY laughed. They cried. And then, as the stage fell into final darkness, there were those who could do nothing but leap to their feet in appreciation.
* * * * * * *
Last night, at the Festival Theatre, War Horse took a capacity audience on the ultimate emotional roller-coaster.
Event theatre. That’s the new name for shows like War Horse. Productions so popular that, as in this case, they can sell out an entire run well ahead of opening night.
In the past such productions were classed as spectaculars, blockbusters, even. War Horse is both. It is also feel-good theatre at its best, though not without painting a chilling portrait of the inhumanity of life in the trenches.
As we approach the centenary of the Great War, there is an added poignancy to Michael Murporgo’s tale, which at its heart is a simple story of love and devotion.
When young Albert Noracott discovers his horse, Joey, has been requisitioned to fight for the British in World War I, he determines to enlist, find his pet, and bring him home – despite being too young to fight for King and Country.
Caught in enemy crossfire, Joey ends up serving with German forces before ending up in No Man’s Land where Albert finds him . . . but is he in time to save Joey?
In a faultless ensemble cast, special mention must go to Karen Henthorn as Rose Naracott. Her fine and feisty performance is in perfect harmony with Lee Armstrong’s nicely headstrong Albert, her son.
Bob Fox, as the Song Man who leads the company in a beautifully sung narration, too is deserving of praise.
Created by the award-winning Handspring Puppet Company, there is no doubt, however, that the puppets and puppeteers of War Horse are the real stars; the life-size equine creations stealing every scene in which they appear. Within seconds of Joey appearing, there is little doubt that he is flesh and blood, the illusion complete.
Heart-wrenching, yet ultimately uplifting, it is easy to see why this is the most successful production in the history of the National Theatre. A true theatrical treasure.
• Run ends February 15.