I attended the opening night of War Horse on stage last night at the beautiful Paramount Theatre in Seattle. Presented by the Seattle Theatre Group (STG) and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, War Horse is the tale of a horse and his young owner torn apart at the onset of World War I. The play, as well as the Oscar nominated film and book bearing the same name, tell the epic story of their struggles to reunite.
By far my favorite part of the show has to be the horse, Joey, himself. Joey is portrayed by three puppeteers, one of whom controls the head and ears, another in the middle controls the breathing and front hooves, and the last controls the hind legs and tail. All three work together seamlessly to breathe life into, what in reality, is just metal and wood.
It’s truly impressive how realistic this horse can look. In addition to the technical achievement of the horse team, a nod should also be given to light and set design. The War Horse set is very minimal, spanning the stage is a large screen, meant to look like a scrap of paper, upon which backdrops are projected in a sketched style, changing with the seasons and becoming more distressed as the war progresses. The stage and actors are generally clad in earth tones reflecting the overall feeling of despair that comes from a long, costly war. For being such a sparsely furnished set, the crew and actors were still able to give a good sense of place and time.
Despite all the technical wizardry, I wasn’t a huge fan of the story, I found it to be a little too fairy-tale-esque, albeit a fairy tale with shrapnel and tear gas. I was hoping for a more adult story, perhaps even with a more realistic ending, though I realize this was originally a young adult novel, so I can see the reason for the “happy” ending. I still did really enjoy this show and would definitely recommend seeing it, especially if you are interested in the actual craft of the theater. I’d also like to mention that this is a violent show, though stylistically done, however War Horse is probably not suited for kids under twelve.