'War Horse is not a show you just watch - it is a show you feel' - Review

PUBLISHED: 11:44 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:21 19 October 2017

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The horrors of trench warfare contrasted with the warmth of human kindness, particularly towards animals, makes for a moving and poignant show in War Horse at the Bristol Hippodrome this week.

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/MoegenburgThe War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

War Horse, based on the book of the same name by children’s author Michael Morpurgo, celebrated its 10th anniversary last night.

On paper, the original premise should not work on stage – so much so that Mr Morpurgo doubted it would be possible. It focuses on a Devon-born horse called Joey, who is flung into wartime service for the British Army.

Through effortless puppeteering, it follows his journey through war-torn France, and the cruelty of shells, poisoned gas and barbed wire. World War One was the first truly mechanised war, with the rise of the tank and machine guns. And a 100 years on from that war, the story could not be more poignant.

War Horse is immersive, and you will get lost in the tale. You will feel every explosion like a body blow. You will be swept up in the story of one horse puppet, so beautifully manoeuvred you do not notice the people moving its joints.

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/MoegenburgThe War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

And perhaps, as we approach the centenary of the end of World War One, this is when we need this story most.

It is probably no coincidence the only other show which has ever left me reeling was Journey’s End – another tale of camaraderie in the trenches.

In that play too, through the moments of warmth and affection, there is an undercurrent of horror.

The men who fought in 1914-1918 are gone now, but through shows like War Horse, their stories are not. And it is only right we are confronted with the stark realities of warfare. Like the horses, like Joey, men were swept up into battle and left with the scars of it.

The War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/MoegenburgThe War Horse UK tour. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

And War Horse transports you there, by letting you witness Joey’s owner Albert as he faces day after day on the frontline. You are dropped into wartime France, where farms are not safe from the perils of battle. You are left watching a horse, one you saw as a puppet to start with, but by the midpoint has become a living breathing animal in your mind, and you witness moments of human kindness.

‘Damn this war’, one character viscerally shouts out in one scene. And by that point, those words are truly earned.

War Horse is not a show you just watch – it is a show you feel. And as we approach Remembrance Day, perhaps through theatre we can make a tiny attempt to appreciate the realities of war – and we can all take a moment to remember those men (and horses) who fell.

War Horse will be shown at the Bristol Hippodrome from today (Thursday) to November 11 at 7.30pm on Mondays to Saturdays.

There will be 2.30pm matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays, excluding October 18.

Tickets, priced £22.40-65.40, are available from www.atgtickets.com/venues/bristol-hippodrome or 08448 713012.

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