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Thursday, March 21, 2013

War Horse On Stage

I had the privilege of seeing War Horse on stage last night. I have already written about my obsession with the story and a review of the movie in this post, so you know I was excited. When the show closed in New York I was absolutely heartbroken - I'd desperately wanted to go see it, but just did not have time when I was home in NJ. So when I learned the play was going to travel and would be coming right here to St. Louis, I was overjoyed!

The tickets were my Christmas present from my mom and I bought them back in December, so I've been looking forward to the production for three months. It did NOT disappoint. What an incredible, amazing, fantastic show!
Of course I was most anxious to see the horse puppets and how life-like they really are. The answer is, so real you can almost totally suspend disbelief. Every little nuance of "horseness" is replicated: the tiny shudders, the breathing, the manner of eating and grazing, swishing of manes and tails, the subtle movements of ears - these puppeteers have got it DOWN. Their ears are a bit oversized (although we know there are horses, like dear Zenyatta, who have some pretty big ones, LOL) but I think that is the better to communicate with to the audience.

The only thing that was not accurately represented was the whinnies, which were much too high-pitched. I don't know about you but I can make a pretty darn good neigh come out of my human throat - it just hurts to do it so I don't try it often. (My friends in elementary school used to beg me to do this on the playground... is it any wonder other kids thought I was strange? :-)
Joey and equine buddy Topthorn 
If you didn't know the story ahead of time, and/or are not a horse person, it might be hard to determine that Joey and Topthorn became best friends after a bit of a rocky start. There is a scene when they are turned out together and just like real horses, "come to an agreement:"
I just loved Topthorn's puppet. He's a little bigger than Joey and just has a different presence. I also loved these other puppets (especially the grey one), even though they really weren't onstage all that much:
This neat wheeled goose puppet provided some comic relief (there actually are some good laughs in the dialogue, too):
For me - and I'm sure everyone else - the most heartrending part of the show comes when Joey and Topthorn are put to work pulling the heavy gun carriage. The two horses who first come onstage hitched to the carriage are a completely different kind of puppet, clearly indicating they are thin and sad and horribly overworked. It was painful seeing them. And of course, the worst is yet to come... but on the off-chance you don't know the story, I won't give away the entire plot. Incidentally, I discovered that the movie follows the play's plot more closely, not that of the book. I'd been curious about that.

This is my favorite image that I found online of Joey and Albert:
The human on the left is Joey's "head operator." Before seeing the show, I had been told that the humans "blend in" after a while. I did find this to be true. You'd think they would be intrusive but no, you become so caught up in the story that you barely notice them. I was able to talk to one of the actors in the theatre lobby after the show, and I asked him if they ever bring the puppets out for the public to see. He said only on media occasions as they prefer to preserve the mystique by not letting people see them close up. I guess that makes sense, but I'd love to be able to touch one!

I highly, highly encourage you to go see War Horse if comes to your hometown or somewhere close by. The tickets were fairly expensive here (my sweet mom encouraged me to get awesome seats so last night's were very pricey, like $75, for third row in the balcony) but believe me, they are absolutely worth it. I might even go back and sit in a cheap seat just to experience it again. NOT TO BE MISSED by any horse-lover, that's for sure!

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