Warhorse is a beautifully choreographed, poignant peak at the toll of war on man and beast. The strength of love and loyalty is stretched beyond anything a man or horse should have to endure or could reason.
The show is a slow-paced first half reflecting the simple rural life where tilling the land and two brother farmers betting on whether ‘hunter’ horse Joey can plough the land to win the perky horse are the worst worries in their everyday simplistic life.
The story follows the journey and bond of horse Joey and simple only son Albert. His bitter, hardened farmer father, Ted, never enlisted in the army while others within the rural community did and Ted is not allowed to forget this no matter how he much drinks to wash away his shame.
In contrast , Albert is gentle and loving towards sprightly Joey but his father, who bid for Joey at a horse auction, has now made a bet with Albert’s uncle that Joey can win the near impossible task of learning to plough the land in one week.
Albert is seething with his father but determined to keep Joey so makes his father promise if he succeeds in winning the bet he will never be parted with Joey to which Ted agrees. (why have we all got a bad feeling about this?)
Albert trains stubborn Joey and on the day the horse (literally) pulls through and horse and master stay together.
But not long after, Germany is at war with Britain and the army is in desperate need of horses to ride and fight in France and led by his greed rather than national duty, Ted agrees to sell Joey for 100 pounds.
Albert is broken-hearted when he finds out. So much so that he enlists – determined to find his beloved horse.
The comparison with the show’s second half epic action-filled account of both Joey and his beloved master Albert’s harrowing tale during World War 1 in the trenches reveals the mind-boggingly ridiculousness of soldiers marching into death zones without a chance of survival.
It also shines a spotlight on the battering of France’s farmland which no longer mirrors the simple rural life in England. The second half is hard to watch and believe but important to never forget. Man and horse endure no end of suffering but Albert’s enduring love for Joey keeps him going.
The ground-breaking puppetry work by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company brings Michael Morpurgo’s story of breathing, galloping horses to life on stage and is quite breath-takingly beautiful.
Produced by the National Theatre, the horse movement is choreographed by Toby Sedgwick. The intrinsic movement details are so incredibly life-like that Toby’s genius is probably one of the main reasons the show has won 25 awards including the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway since it premiered in 2007.
Scottish Youth Theatre student Scott Miller plays the central role of Albert believably. The Glaswegian actor straddles passion, desperation and frustration tenderly. Kash Bennett, Producer for National Theatre Productions said: “What better way to bring War Horse to Glasgow for the first time than with Scott Miller as our first Glaswegian Albert. We’re thrilled to be bringing War Horse back to Scotland as part of the UK and international tour, following its return to the NT for the first time in 11 years to mark the centenary of Armistice Day. We’re looking forward to this extraordinary new company – plus some familiar faces – taking to the road throughout 2019 as they continue to share Michael Morpurgo’s touching story of Joey and Albert around the world.”
The show’s impressive puppetry and excellent acting by Albert, confidently holds it head high like a graceful mane. Now and then the Glaswegian actor tends to mumble but it’s still a memorable performance and definitely worth a visit.
Bring some Kleenex (other tear-mopping hankies are available)
review by Susie Daniels
Warhorse is on at Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo until Feb 2nd