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War Horse

PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2008 10:36 pm
by Barry
February 9th 2008
The National Theatre

Now I really won't be able to do the sound and sight of 1200 people crying loudly over the death of a puppet justice. What an achievement this production is. A children's book about a horse in the trenches of WWI placed on the biggest and most exposed stage in London, and right fromt eh start it grabs you and tells you straight away what the evenign si goign to be like. Against a huge torn fragment of a drawing a puppeteered pair of swallows dart and dive. This sets the scene for the appearance of Joey as a foal, complete with stiff legs. Beautfiully operated by very visible operators never taking their eyes of the puppet's eyes. Later the full scale Joey appears and what a beast. Three operators again, two inside which must be a killer for a start, operating so many different levers and parts, but then this horse goes and gets ridden. Other horses appear, fights, stumble, die, get caught in barbed wire, starve, get gassed and in a series of stunningly realised set pieces, all done with magnificent economy. The horses are suitably stylised but accurately performed. I'm pleased that their shiny eyes never blinked as that would have taken them too realistically. In a moment that stopped my heart, as it is something I would have done, a horse collapsed and had a terrifying heart attack. The three operators elegantly stepped out and walked away into the shadows in unison. Very moving and very theatrical, but what a potent image. A goose treatened to upstage the horses but not in a Babe sort of way, and two crows picking at the dead carcasses had the audience squirming. There was a happy ending eventually which was beautifully realised and tears flowed, certainly from me. That the audience can respond so viscerally to puppets is still exciting. Of coruse I loved every second, but part of me was in pain, as nearly all these wonderful inventive and supposedly novelideas have appeared in my films in a similar way, from the torn fragment of paper, to the shadow puppets, to the visible operators flying the birds around. I'm not claiming my ideas are orginal, but it does suggest that I could have mounted such a production, and could have tackled this subject with equal if not more invention. I wonder what would have happened if I had gone to the National with this exact production and proposed it.But this has set the standard now, and really makes the puppetry of the Lion King all rather basic, and certainly makes the literal puppets of Dr Dolittle unworthy of that name. It seems people respond so well to imagination. Of course there will now be dozens of less proficient shows with puppets appearing everywhere, and no doubt this show will go to america. But oh good to see grown adults openly weeping. How sad that stop motion puppets haven't even begun to reach this level of connection and response. We are simply not exploiting stop motion puppets to their limit yet.
A joyous, moving, shattering and horrifying afternoon. The scenes of war, though stylised, were more brutal than anything from a war movie. Only a rather drawn out subplot about a german officer seemed to drag the plot down, well perhaps that is because the show lost something when the horses weren't on stage. I loved the way the design of the tanks and gun carriages echoed the skeletal design of the horses.
Well done to the National.
When I first heard about this production I was just too late for my book, which is a shame as this must be some sort of pinnacle of what puppets are capable of and it would have been great to have talked about the production.

some clips (clops!)

PostPosted: Sun Feb 10, 2008 9:55 pm
by Barry
some very short clips of the horses in action...

Re: War Horse

PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 12:38 pm
by Barry
August 1st 2009

Thanks to the supreme generosity of Jo, I saw this show again, now in its new home at the New london. I was a little nervous as i'd probably embroidered the production in my head over the last eighteen months. Not a bit, in fact I think I enjoyed it more this time, appreciaiting the mechanics and it's sheer genius. Not much has been lost in its transfer to a different theatre, and the horses seeming even more details, with the breathing so clear, and the nuances so subtle. Again, the resonces of much talk about World War One this week, and me wanting an animal so much, and having a tough time with everything just now, well it didn't take me long before I was sobbing with such joy and sadness and frustration - a simply astonishing production that moves me as I have seldom been moved, but also frustrating because of where I am careerwise now, and how I know I could contribute to such a show.
You really do have to see this show. maybe how you react to it depends on you relationship to animals and to theatricality - and to the pointless stupidity and ineffectual nature of war.
I was in floods.

Re: War Horse

PostPosted: Fri Dec 18, 2009 7:22 pm
by Barry ... Pen-Script

oh no! It had to happen, but I wish it wouldn't. Well it will be different from the stage at least. the stage version will still be perfection.