Beautiful puppets gallop through a sentimental spectacle

War Horse, review, Broadway Across Canada

The puppets in War Horse are uniquely beautiful

I was dazzled by the horse puppets and I cried a couple of times—but often I was bored. War Horse is a  disappointingly empty spectacle. 

The story is about a 16-year-old English lad named Albert, and his hunter, Joey. When his dad sells Joey into military use at the start of World War I, Albert enlists, despite being underage, in the hopes of finding his beloved companion on the battlefield.

Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book, the plot is achingly predictable, especially in Act —not to mention melodramatic. And the tone of this production—which is presented by the National Theatre of Great Britain and Bob Boyett in association with the Handspring Puppet Company—is relentlessly sentimental. A singer keeps popping out of the word work to belt out war tunes in an elegiac tone and there’s an overabundance of warmly tinted fog in Paule Constable’s lighting design.

The most nuanced acting performance comes from Andrew May, who plays German officer Captain Friedrich Muller. The characterizations are all decent—this is a National Theatre production, after all—but many of them are also disconcertingly loud. In Act 1, that’s certainly true of Michael Wyatt Cox’s work as Albert; only a puppet foal would approach a human who was hollering like that. And, with their thick accents, many characters are often unintelligible.

I’m glad I saw War Horse: the massive, sculptural puppets come alive thanks to their manipulators: the heaving of the horses’ massive chests, the flicking of their heads; that’s all magic. But the story is far more simplistic and sentimental—far less honest and intelligent—than I had hoped it would be.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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