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Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse opened at the National Theatre on Londonís South Bank in 2007. It was an overnight sensation with every ticket selling out quickly and having completed its run, returned to the Theatre the following year. By popular demand the production transferred to the New London Theatre in the West End, where it has been playing to packed houses ever since. Today it is one of the only ongoing shows in London which attracts a full audience every night and continues to sell out to the point where good tickets must be purchased months in advance.
After a drunken argument with his brother, Albertís father bids on a young horse during an auction and ends up spending the familyís savings. Albert begins to take care of the horse he names ĎJoeyí and it becomes obvious that Joey is a special horse. During the First World War the horse is sold by his father much to Albertís anger, to the cavalry and taken to France on an epic journey that sees him serving on both sides in the war. Back home in England, Albert cannot forget Joey or forgive his father and so begins a dangerous mission to the trenches to find him and bring him home.
The show is based on the Michael Morpurgoís book of the same name which is a popular childrenís story, however it is not a book Iíve read so I knew nothing about what I was about to see.
Before the show, I had no idea how they were going to bring the War Horse to life. All I knew about the story was that there was a boy with a horse and that they were the main characters. I assumed that a real life horse was brought out onto stage every night until a work colleague informed me, to my disappoinment that they used puppets. Puppets?! Really?! I had an image of something similar to the Maggie Thatcher huge puppet in Billy Elliott Ė how wrong I was! I had no idea just how amazing these puppets would be! The horses are life size models and are assisted around the stage flawlessly by three people. Itís very difficult to explain so hopefully the images will help! One person looks after the head and runs around next to the horse while two people are inside the horse and operate the legs and body. It is very well executed and audience members were open mouthed at the start!
The production also includes an original score composed by John Tams. The music in War Horse actually wasnít my cup of tea at all. Rather than big group numbers like in Wicked or songs that help tell the story like in Les Miserables, the music was either background mood music or Irish folk type songs sung by a guy who randomly appeared at sad moments throughout the show to sing. Mum and dad loved it but I wasnít as taken with it, although it did help to set a sad, sombre mood.
Those who know me or have read my reviews will know that I love the theatre and go at least once a month. Iím generally a musical theatre girl but also see a lot of other shows and am familiar with a lot of West End actors, however I didnít recognise any of the names in War Horse.
The puppeteers were fantastic and could not have done a better job. Nigel Betts who played the father was excellent but he did have the most interesting role to play and the best character to get into! He was also a police officer later in the show and did a great job in this role too. Albert was the main character but I was not particular impressed by Matthew Aubreyís interpretation. He had a good relationship with his horse and it must be very difficult to act alongside an inanimate object. He was playing a young boy but it was still all a little bit too whiney for me!
The theatre and its location
The theatre is an unusual layout with everyone almost sitting together in each of the two levels.
Located in the Aldwych area near Covent Garden station in a perfect spot for eating out or having a drink. Covent Garden has lots of restaurants, of which the majority provide a pre-theatre menu for a reasonable price. There are also many chain restaurants around such as Pizza Express, Zizzi and La Tasca all of which regularly offer 50% off or 2 for 1 on main meals which I like to take advantage of when Iím at the theatre! It is also within walking distance from several other underground stations including Holborn, Leicester Square and Embankment.
I would never advise driving and parking in London because itís more hassle than itís worth, however there is a large NCP car park in Parker Mews, directly below the New London Theatre should you wish to park.
New London Theatre Drury Lane London WC2B 5PW
Tickets and availability
The show is currently booking into 2012 and shows no sign of losing its appeal. It is one of the hardest shows to get tickets for and they regularly sell out in advance. I went to see it with my mum and dad and had to book at quite short notice (for a midweek showing). We paid £45 per ticket for lower level side of stage tickets which is expensive for seats that arenít the best in house or even close! However, there was still a good view as there was from most areas of the theatre. I have never seen War Horse tickets on offer which again is very rare for a West End show, especially during the week.
The National Theatre website currently has no tickets available for the next month. After that tickets can be purchased for between £39 - £49 midweek and up to £55-85 for Easter weekend. If you are able to book further in advance it is advisable as tickets can be bought much cheaper and at a variety of prices.
£15 - restricted view circle seats £25 - restricted view stalls seats £39-49 Ė stalls and circle seats £85 Ė stalls premium seats
The future of War Horse
War Horse has been so popular during its West End run that tickets are still selling up to mid 2012. There is no doubt that this will be extended. It will also open on Broadway in March 2011.
Stephen Spielbergís new movie adaptation of the novel has been in talks for years and is due to be released by Dreamworks in late 2011.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, War Horse has become a West End phenomemon playing to packed audiences since it began. It has subsequently broken the record for the highest weekly gross for a play in the West End and has welcomed over a million guests. I personally thought it a lovely story and a wonderful, impressive production, but it didnít grip me like some other shows have and I donít think I would see it again (unless it was paid for!)
I would give War Horse 7/10 which I think is an great score, however for Ciao purposes Iím going to go with 3/5 as it doesnít quite grab the fourth for me. I know this will not be a popular rating for a well-loved show but Iíve seen too many shows that I have enjoyed more. However, I would still recommend it for all ages.