“A show of phenomenal inventiveness”, War Horse returns for an exhilarating and unmissable run at the Sydney Lyric Theatre.
A production which has been running for over 10 years, War Horse has by no means avoided the spotlight. First performed back in 2007 at the National Theatre, London, the play was immediately so successful that it was moved to the West End and then Broadway from where it has since cantered across the world, performing in 98 cities worldwide and counting.
War Horse has been continuously acclaimed, with six Tony’s under its belt and the seal of approval from Queen Elizabeth II herself. So it’s not with low expectations that the audience gathered into Sydney’s Lyric Theatre earlier this week to see the opening night of War Horse’s limited run in the city. Undeniably, it did not merely live up to, but exceeded all hopes and the performance was met with a full-house standing ovation. There was not a dry eye in the room.
Based on the novel by much-loved children’s writer, Michael Morpurgo, War Horse tells the story of a young Devonshire lad, Albert and his unbreakable bond of friendship with his horse, Joey, who he adopts as a foal. His happy bucolic childhood in rural England is called to an abrupt end when, with the start of World War I, his father sells the now-young horse and Albert’s best friend to the army. Devastated by this loss, Albert defies age restrictions and the warnings of his family and enlists himself in order to search for Joey. Joining the British army in northern France, he shortly encounters the brutal realities of early modern warfare spurred on by his far-off dream of reunion.
It is a tale of courage, loyalty and friendship which charges across the stage with both skill and heart – a performance as heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming.
No review of the play would be complete without talking about the ingenious puppetry which artfully conjures up the spirited animal characters. Although the description of a show of animal puppets might not paint the most sophisticated of images, the life-size horses used within the show are astounding. Each manned by three puppeteers from South Africa’s ground-breaking Handspring Puppet Company; when they first take to the stage, you might not believe how easy it will be to look past the human figures, but it doesn’t take long! By the end of the production, you will barely be able to believe you are not watching a genuine horse, trained to act upon one of Sydney’s most majestic theatre stages.
These horses fit easily into the imagined world of the play, back-dropped by a host of other puppets including soaring birds, callous military tools and even a comedic goose for good measure. With these puppets, War Horse tugs the heartstrings by hauntingly emphasising the savage vulnerability of the pre-industrial warfare of swords and horses in the face of increasing technological advances in the forms of machine guns, barbed wire and tanks. Their ability to conjure up the brutal realities of the World War I and the unique temperaments of the animals within the tight limits of the stage of the Sydney Lyric Theatre is unparalleled.
Alongside these remarkable puppets, the cast excel with a subtle combination of touching humour and heart-breaking naivete. That’s not to mention a no-frills script which is guaranteed to have you gripping the edge of your seat. From all angles, this play is an unmissable experience for any fans of the stage. If you’ve been considering seeing it, this is the sign you’ve been waiting for, and even if you haven’t, this is it too.
War Horse is, without a doubt, a triumph of theatre.
Sydney Lyric Theatre – 55 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont, NSW 2009
Until Sunday 15 March 2020
Tickets from $59.90
For more information visit War Horse
War Horse is also touring to Regent Theatre in Melbourne and Crown Theatre in Perth.
Editors note: Hunter and Bligh were gifted an experience with to attend the opening gala night of War Horse. All reviews are authentic and are in no way influenced by our partnership.
Feature image: War Horse. Photographed by Brinkhoff Mögenburg. Image supplied