The acclaimed production of War Horse has now hit the Regent Theatre in Hanley, giving the people of Staffordshire a golden opportunity to be immersed in this spectacular, riveting and emotional story.
After 8 years on the West End, this impressive production, first adapted from a novel and later into a Stephen Spielberg film, has touched the hearts of millions, leaving the feeling of extreme reverence in its audiences. Now on tour, the whole country can have their heartstrings pulled by this fascinating story of a teenager venturing into the horrors of the First World War, to retrieve his beloved horse, Joey.
When Joey is sold to the cavalry and sent to France during the armed conflict, Albert (Scott Miller), is determined to find his horse and bring him home to rural Devon. It’s this journey that makes up the bulk of the play, with the amazing life-sized mechanical horse puppets utilised to draw out the audience’s empathy. The most daring aspect of the production is the use of these mechanical animals, which includes a brilliantly funny puppet goose. Their intricate nature allows the viewer to fully invest in the action being portrayed on the stage. They are controlled so subtly and intelligently, with the finest of movements, and life-like sound, that you are able to ignore the performers physically moving them. The performers behind the horses deserve enormous credit for bringing this production to life and allowing us to invest in the story.
The play uses Joey as a vessel to highlight the horrific and violent nature of war. Through his journey we view four years of senseless death and the brutality inflicted on the men involved. These depictions of the war are brilliantly orchestrated through a symbiotic mixture of piercing sound, obscure lighting, and detailed use of projection. The gun firing effects are so utterly believable that audience members jumped out of their seats when they first heard one erupt from the nose of a prop gun. The costumes are designed in detail, and work to place the audience member in to the scene of the action. The technical aspects of the production work in perfect harmony to create a seamless and smooth experience for the viewer. All the means available are used to make this a truly immersive experience.
Scott Miller is likeable and earnest in his depiction as Albert, which makes his devotion to his horse utterly believable. His chemistry with his mother in the play, Rose (Jo Castleton) is sweet and touching, forming a relatable mother son relationship. The supporting performances are impressive, with humour introduced at the right moments. Some of the British soldiers’ interactions with one another bring a nice injection of comic relief, ensuring the play isn’t needlessly brow beating with its anti-war message.
Every part of the production feels as if it’s been treated with care and affection, creating the sense that the people behind the curtain hold the material in as much reverence as the audience. From the rousing and melancholic music, the costumes, the puppeteers, the charming performances, and even the exquisite use of light projection, it really feels like this was a passionate undertaking. This along with the sweeping story and the World War backdrop highlight that this show isn’t just a technical marvel but an emotional one too. I’d also recommend bringing tissues.
War Horse is at the Regent Theatre Stoke from the 27 March to 6 April. Tickets are available online.