War Horse, New London Theatre, London. September 2015.
This trip turned out to be incredibly poignant as while we were ensconced in the auditorium closing notices for the production were posted.
We however found this out afterwards and in the meantime the three of us making this trip were blown away by what we saw on stage. This was my fourth visit but the first time my companions had seen the play live, although one had seen the NT Live broadcast.
Repeated viewings of this production never disappoint me. Each time I sit in a different area of the theatre and so see something new. This time we had seats in the 'restricted view' seats to the side of the stalls. I have put the restricted view into inverted commas because I think that we missed nothing on the stage at all, and while sometimes the actors had their backs to us that was the only inconvenience. The seats were in fact just three rows from the front and so we really could see the whites of the actors eyes.
As ever I was instantly swept up into the story and forgot within seconds that Joey and Topthorn weren't real. In fact where we were sitting we made so much eye contact with Joey at one point that we were all reaching for apples to share with him! This close range also showed just how good the puppets are in scenes where they are used as riders on the "half-horses."
Every time I watch this play I get a lump in my throat at a different point, after all of the work I have been doing on the Norfolk in WW1 project it was the lines about the war being over by Christmas in act one choked me up but it was the very final scene that had me swallowing hard this time. I know that I have become more involved in the human story in the past few years and while the treatment of the animals is a way into the horrors of war I have moved on from that in some ways and do get more involved with the human story. However there were still points I had to shut my eyes for!
As we said afterwards - without showing any blood at all this is one of the most violent and brutal things we've ever seen.
In the second act we are taken away from the bucolic Devon countryside and romantic ideas of how the war will be into the horrors of the trenches - the added realism of a real mouse around my feet was a nice,but unnecessary touch!
On the way home we were discussing what we'd seen when the man sitting behind us joined in - it turns out that he'd been the back-end puppeteer of Joey for a few years and had given Michael Morpurgo a ride on Joey! He gave some fascinating insights to the role, how the puppets work and how hard it was to make it look so real and so effortless. I'm just glad we had all liked the performance and were saying nice things, it isn't always the case!
I'm now planning one more trip to see War Horse before it closes, and wondering whether to really splash out for those special seats in the front stalls for the 'wow' moment or to stick with the so-called restricted view and go twice...