War Horse: A once-in-a-lifetime theatrical event

War Horse

Director: Alex Simms Puppet design and direction: Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler

Tickets: R150 to R450


Put all the superlatives you know into a sentence, add the ones you had to look up in the thesaurus and you are getting closer to describing the singular theatrical event that is War Horse.

Having premiered at the Olivier Theatre in London back in 2007, it has taken seven years for War Horse to get here.

It is still running on the West End and this production is part of a world tour.

The South African leg is particularly poignant because the creators of the horse puppets are Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, the Capetonians behind the Handspring Puppet Company.

The show could not be staged locally because of the staggering costs (producer Pieter Toerien explains in the programme that he would have had to charge R1?000 a ticket and fill every seat every night to stand a chance of just breaking even).

Thanks to Rand Merchant Bank stepping in with some cash, the tickets are significantly cheaper than that and are worth significantly more in experience value.

The story of World War 1 told through the eyes of a horse named Joey is based on Michael Morpurgo’s moving novel, which he admits became a bestseller because of the stage production.

The horse has no emotions, though he shares a special bond with Albert, the boy who trained and loved him as a foal. The true wonder of this show is watching the three-person teams who operate the horse puppets.

For each performance, they behave a little differently to maintain the unpredictability of the animal – keeping the cast on their toes. Their movements are so seamless, they soon become live horses to the audience upon whom the deep emotion and incredible cruelty of the war is reflected.

The attention to detail in the staging of this show is staggering. It makes use of a screen that looks like a piece of paper ripped from a notebook as the equivalent of a traditional backdrop and the use of lighting to accentuate the action is masterful. The goose puppet deserves a special mention for providing some light relief, and the Song Man adds context and transports the audience to a time and place 100 years ago.

War Horse is the must-have ticket for the summer. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and those seldom cost less than R500.

You will need tissues if you are as soppy as me. I began crying as the first puppet made his entrance and kept it up until boy and horse were reunited.

.?War Horse runs at The Teatro at Montecasino, Joburg, until November 30 and at Artscape in Cape Town from December 5 to January 4

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