War Horse, The Play
By Susan Acree
If any of you follow my Page on Facebook, you know how I felt about War Horse the Movie…Absolutely HATED it!
First of all I hate war movies. War is a reality that I don’t want to see on the big screen and call it entertainment, even it is a “good” story. Add to the war part, horses being cut down by Gatling guns, tangled and sliced up by barbed wire, run down by tanks and worked to exhaustion and death…No thank you.
I had no intention of going to the movie, but my good friend asked “Are you ready to see War Horse”? My first response was ”No, I don’t think I want to see War Horse”, but she insisted that she had heard it was great and we should go. My husband even said he would go with us, so I agreed…Big Mistake!
Other than the feel good story about a boy and his horse, the whole movie horrified me. I had people say, “I heard it was really sad”…I didn’t cry a single tear. My stomach was so tied in knots at the horror of the whole thing, that I felt physically sick.
So why, you may ask, did I go see the play? Well, a friend in my book club had suggested that a bunch of us go over to Boise, an easy 3 ½-4 hour drive, and make a girl’s weekend of it. This was before I saw the movie. I committed to the weekend, paid for my ticket and was all set to enjoy the show. Then I saw the movie. I nearly sold her my ticket back, but I had heard that the puppetry in the play was phenomenal and I thought, “There is no way a play can be as disturbing and graphic as the movie.”
I was right to an extent. I wish I would not have seen the movie, because even as I was enjoying the play and the spectacle of it, I could remember the scenes from the movie. Some of the girls said they wanted to see the movie now that they had watched the play. Needless to say, I was emphatic that they not do that. I said “Why ruin this fabulous experience, please don’t go to the movie.” In the end it will be their choice, but I hope they don’t see the movie.
Enough about the movie; let me tell you about the play.
It was awesome!
It started with Joey (War Horse) as a colt. The puppet was a bit bigger than life size with three puppeteers, one on his head, one on his front legs and one on his hind legs and tail. They all stood outside of the colt’s frame. The tail swished, the ears twitched, as he grazed, you could see him tug at the grass with each bite, soooo amazing.
And that was just the beginning….
In true Broadway style, with a flash of light and a puff of smoke, Joey grows up right before your eyes. It happens so fast, you hardly know how it happened.
The adult Joey was bigger than life size by a bit and also has three puppeteers. One at his head, one inside the front of the frame to control the front legs and shoulders and the third is in the back of the frame controlling the back legs, tail, and haunches. They are dressed in the same color as the horse. Joey is a sorrel in the play with no white on his face or legs.
In the story, Joey had a horse friend named Topthorn. Topthorn is midnight black, big and beautiful. The puppeteers for Topthorn are dressed in black. After the first few minutes, you totally forget that the horses aren’t real. The puppeteers disappear from your mind’s eye because you become so intrigued by the horsenalities of all of the horses on stage.
One of the other amazing things about these horses is that they are ridden by the actors in the play. The metal frame in adequately strong to support the riders without the puppeteers having to carry all of their weight. The designers were absolutely ingenious.
The play runs for two 70 minute halves and a 20 minute intermission. The time just flies by.
When the play first started, I got that same ‘sick to my stomach’ feeling that the movie gave me, but I was determined not to let the movie ruin this experience for me. By the second half, I was totally into the play. There were still some scenes that I couldn’t help but look away, watching even puppet horses die and be dragged across the stage is still disturbing. By this point in the show, they ceased being puppets and everyone was enthralled by each horse.
One of the scenes that captivated me was when Joey was trying to plow the field. The way they were able to make it look like he was struggling to pull the weight was just amazing. His haunches lowered, his neck arched, his shoulders and front legs strained and slipped.
Another amazing feat of puppetry was when Joey and Topthorn were getting to know each other. Horses always must decide what the pecking order is to be in a herd, even if the herd is only two horses.
Topthorn and Joey had a bit of a scrap, they reared and bit each other’s necks, and again, you forgot these weren’t really two horses meeting for the first time in a field. The puppeteers had all of the movements perfected, in the end, with one last kick, Topthorn came out as the leader and they were best buddies throughout the rest of the play.
When Topthorn died, we all cried right along with Joey, so amazing.
One of the most disturbing parts of the movie was left out, and I was so glad, it appalled me in the movie and would have not added anything but horror to the play.
For the curtain call all of the actors took their bow; then the puppeteers of Joey and Topthorn came out and took a bow. Then the stage cleared and Joey and Topthorn came out for their bow. They reared and whinnied and pranced around the stage….this is when I cried the most, it was just such an awesome spectacle, I couldn’t help it.
If you ever have a chance to see this play, take it!