Thursday, April 25, 2013

War Horse

On Anzac Day, when we remember Australian and New Zealand men and women involved in the First World War and subsequent wars and battles, it seems an appropriate time to write of a thought provoking production about World War I that recently played in Melbourne.

For Christmas I was given tickets to see the National Theatre of Great Britain production of War Horse at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. It was a fantastic production combining large scale puppetry with live actors. The plot was a commentary on the futility of war told primarily from the experience and viewpoint of a horse. Sounds incredible but in the theatre it works. Albert owns a horse called Joey but at the outbreak of World War I horses, as well as men, are sent from England to France to fight the Germans. There were scenes set on both sides of the conflict depicting the use of horses during the war plus the attitudes of the soldiers sent overseas to fight. The actual set was simple but the use of lighting and sound enabled the changes in the scenes as well as provided dramatic effect, especially during the war scenes which at times were very loud and often confronting. However humour was interspersed during the play to lighten the tension. The stars of the show were the horses - life size puppets each operated by three people. The operators were always in view however after a few minutes you did not notice them, just the life-like movements of the horses. There was also a puppet goose that provided comic relief on occasions. All in all I thought it was a wonderful theatrical experience and a thoughtful interpretation of the experience, horrors, death and destruction of war.

Two weeks ago the first episode of the new series, Parkinson's Masterclass, was an interview between Sir Michael Parkinson and Michael Morpurgo, the author of the children's book, War Horse, from which the play and also a film was adapted. The master class was followed by a program showing how the National Theatre adapted the book for the stage and the challenges in combining life sized puppetry with actors in a production. Both these programs helped re-enforce the experience I had enjoyed in the theatre in January.

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