Monday, November 07, 2011


Mesmerizing WARHORSE brings new dimensions to the stage

World War I, the war to end all wars, was a bloody battle in which an estimated 10 million soldiers lost their lives. An overlooked fact is that, since the conflict was highlighted by cavalry battles, eight million horses were slaughtered. The mighty steeds were cut down as the weapons of warfare, including barbed wire, machine guns, cannons and armored tanks, became the weapons of destruction. Animals were no match for these instruments.

WARHORSE, now on stage in at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at New York’s Lincoln Center, is the story of the bond between Albert, a British farm boy, and Joey, his magnificent horse. It is based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo, as adapted by Nick Stafford.

The plot travels from the English countryside to the fields of France and Germany. Joey, a colt, which was bought by Albert’s father in a drunken bidding contest, has developed into a prized horse. At the start of the war, the father, enticed by money, sells the animal to the British military. Distraught, underage Albert enlists in an attempt to search out and save his steed. Through a series of searing battles we see how horse and boy eventually are reunited.

WARHORSE won 2011 Tony Awards for best play, directing, scenic design, lighting and sound design, plus a special award for Handspring Puppet Company for creating all the realistic animals. Every one of those citations was well deserved.

The visual elements of the production are finely honed. The battle scenes are realistic. The death and carnage of humans and animals is engrossing. Projections and physical elements, barbed wire, bomb explosions, poison gas attacks and tanks fill the thrust stage. Birds fly, a goose cavorts, weather changes, people and animals die.

Nothing is more impressive than the life-sized puppet horses. They are magnificent creatures which are ridden, change in physical size as they become malnourished, whinny, display unique personalities, and become living creatures before our eyes.

Even the musical interludes, which help tell the story, are focused and encompassing.

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr’s direction is flawless. Not a detail is missed. The staging is mind-boggling.

The cast is excellent. Seth Numrich makes Albert so real that his agony becomes ours. Alyssa Breshahan as Rose Narracott, Albert’s mother, personifies a woman caught between her love for son and the need to find a way to live with her often drunk and sullen husband. Matt Doyle is fine as Albert’s cousin, who is forced to go off to war by his controlling father. Kat Pfaffl, as Song Woman and Liam Robinson, as Song Man create numerous emotional moments with their music. In the huge cast, there is not a weak performance.

The audience appreciation was evident by the resounding curtain call. The human actors were applauded, the horses got an extended standing ovation, and even the goose got screams of approval.

Capsule judgement: Filled with amazing puppetry, stirring music, a riveting story, compelling graphics, and fine acting, WARHORSE is mesmerizing theatre. It is a once in a lifetime theatrical experience.