War Horse - The Lowry, Salford

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The horses are stunning. Huge living creatures made out of skeletal bamboo frames and internal hinges with stirrups, halters and manes flapping and which walk and trot and rear up for all the world like the real flesh and blood.

They are expressive of emotions too, with their ears swivelling to detect the merest sound, and there’s always a glint in their eyes.

At one dramatic point a skittering foal is magically transformed into the 
bucking, rearing, grown-up Joey.

The dazzling puppetry – created by the South African Handspring Puppet Company designers Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler – is the brilliance of War Horse, the genius behind the smash hit play seen by 4,000,000 people worldwide, and raced away with the plaudits at the North West premiere of the National Theatre production at The Lowry.

The stagecraft of this dramatic production is also impressive.

A jagged scar in the backdrop sets us in a rainy Devon, a sunlit meadow with Joey galloping, a muddy battlefield.

The human stars excellently serve the story arc: Karen Henthorn as the hard-pressed mother Rose; Steven Hillman as the drunken, thoughtless father Ted Narracott who spends a fortune buying the thoroughbred Joey and then recklessly bets the farm on the horse learning the yeoman skill of ploughing; Lee 
Armstrong as the brave 
Albert who sets off to bring Joey home.

Nick Stafford’s adaptation abandons Joey’s eye-view of Michael Morpurgo’s novel to give us a more objective vision of Albert’s pursuit of his equine friend across the scarred French battlefields of the 1914-18 war.

Joey is soon caught up in enemy fire and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land.

As enthralling as the play is, it’s here that we are 
reminded that this was originally a children’s tale.

The human characters remain essentially one-
dimensional props serving the horse’s story, but it doesn’t much matter such is the 
power of the performances and the stage settings, and the dazzling equine stars.

The production is showing until January 18, 2014.

Mal Morris