Last winter, Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Michael Morpugo’s young adult novel War Horse moved audiences as they witnessed the remarkable story of a young man and his horse in the midst of a treacherous war. But years before its theatrical release, War Horse premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London, achieving worldwide success which included the prestigious distinction of receiving five Tony awards during its 2011 Broadway run. See it now at the Ahmanson Theatre through July 29th, 2012.

From the moment the young horse Joey appears on stage, audiences are held captive by how believable he and his puppet counterparts are, from their fine movements and breathing to their galloping and neighing. Set during the time of World War I, War Horse is the unprecedented story about the unwavering friendship between the boy Albert, and Joey, the horse he breaks and trains as a young man. When the two meet, there is a connection – an unspoken trust between them.

Unfortunately, war reaps its toll on the two and they are separated. Albert’s father sells Joey to the calvary in order to recoup some of the loss incurred by bidding on the horse with the family’s mortgage money. Albert is devastated and heartbroken but determined to find Joey and bring him home.

The story is as much about the senselessness of war as it is about the relationship between a boy and his horse. When Joey becomes a war horse, there is a switch in perspective, albeit subtle. Throughout Joey’s World War I journey, we see the war through his eyes as he serves in the British and German armies, befriends the stately Topthorn, and bears the brunt of the cruelty and inhumane treatment animals were subject to during war times.

Desperate and disheartened, yet determined, Albert sets out on a precarious quest to find his beloved horse. At 16, he isn’t old enough to enlist in the army, but that doesn’t dissuade him. That moment when Albert and Joey reunite is as climactic in the play as it is in the film, a true testament to the both the performers’ and puppeteers’ ability to give life and dimension to these characters.

The production’s team of 30 performers includes an ensemble with lyrical, emotive vocals, and a group of actors that seamlessly coordinate each puppet’s movements in what can only be described as sheer brilliance. Despite the fact that the actors which inhabit these life-sized puppets are visible, they don’t distract, and you won’t question the authenticity of the play’s equine characters.

The play’s modest sets are accentuated by projections of war scenes and animated drawings. But the innovation that brings the play to life is in the puppetry, designed and directed by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.

War Horse runs through July 29th, 2012
Ticket Prices: $20 – $110
2hrs 48mins with a 20 minute intermission
Recommended age: 13 and up Children under 6 not allowed
Tuesday – Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM; Sunday at 1:00 PM and 6:30 PM

Caryn Bailey is a blogger in Orange County who publishes Rockin’ Mama.


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