Many of you will recall the movie War Horse. Some of you may have even read the book. And some of you will have seen the on-stage production.
Today I watched it. The film was great, the book was just as good in my opinion, but neither of them can compete with the theatre version.
I’m sure many of you remember the elephants in the stadium that were part of the 2010 Fifa World Cup Opening Ceremony… the elephants were puppets. Of course, you can’t bring real elephants into a noisy stadium, so they made puppets. They did the same with Joey the horse.
The horse puppets themselves were made here in South Africa, in Cape Town; they were then sent to London, where they all underwent rigorous stress testing, and then to New York to start their careers as Broadway stars. The original creators of the puppets said they had to make changes to the horse puppets as the show went on because they had to continue upgrading and fixing them, as they had never anticipated that the puppets would have to survive over a thousand shows.
There was never meant to be a tour for the show, it was simply meant to be on Broadway, but they actually put the Broadway show on hold for War Horse to come to South Africa; it spent a few months in Cape Town and a few up here in Johannesburg. I managed to catch the show on it’s last day here in South Africa. So you up there in the USA, Ireland and the UK can enjoy this wonderful production again.
If you think it would be a good idea to take your kids to see it, don’t. Spoiler alert but there are some scenes where the horses are shown painfully dying, to make things more graphic one of them happens in slow motion. And if that wasn’t bad enough then there are the crows which constantly peck at the dead bodies of the horses and soldiers.
Your children may have been relatively fine with the film, but the theatre version sets up a very immersive atmosphere mostly using sound (at least at the theatre I went to) and makes one feel as if they are part of the story. The horses themselves seem very lifelike – to the point where some audience members sometimes forgot they were puppets. All this simply makes their death scenes all the more graphic and painful (I did see some tears in the eyes of some audience members). Taking your child to watch this is like taking a group of 10 year olds to watch Twelve Years a Slave: chances are they will come back traumatized.
Probably the best theatre productions I’ve ever seen. The Lion King is now in second place on my list of best theatre productions, moving Spamalot (a parody of Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail – fear not, Monty Python fans, Spamalot was written by Eric Idle) into third place.
A wonderful production that I would gladly pay to watch over and over again.
Just don’t take your kid to see it.