War Horse centers around a boy named Albert and his horse Joey. Albert raises Joey from a foal to a young horse after his father purchases him at an auction. Joey is ultimately sold to the British Army during World War I, and Albert joins the military as a 16 year old boy to track down his beloved horse. Where the story goes from there is fairly predictable and raises no question as to why this was adapted into a Hollywood movie. The predictability of the plot line sucks any real drama out of the show. The most dramatic moment for me came during the first act back in England when Albert’s father wagers Joey against 39 pounds that the horse could plow a field. Would Joey successfully win the bet? Would Albert get to keep his horse? The drama was created because at that point you don’t know if this is how Joey ends up in the military.
Some of the drama of the show is lost in the vast Opera House of the Kennedy Center, which is basically twice the size of the home of War Horse in London and New York. Unless you are seated close to the stage you lose any real connection to the characters. In the second act you are introduced to several characters that are part of Albert and Joey’s life in France, including a fellow private in the British Army and a German soldier who ends up caring for Joey. But much like all of the human characters in the show there is no real connection made with them. In fact, if you haven’t seen the movie or the show and I asked you what happens to the private and the German soldier and Albert and Joey you could probably guess pretty easy.
But, the reason to see War Horse is the puppetry used to create the horses, specifically the lead character Joey. All the raves the show has received for the puppetry is well deserved. With three puppeteers working the two main horses, two inside the body of the horse and a third controlling the head, but looking almost like the horses handler instead of a puppeteer. The puppeteers almost seem to disappear at points in the show. Somewhat ironically the puppets were the stars of the show and the human actors were merely the props.
Up Next: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Baltimore November 10.