The last time I remember crying over a puppet was probably in 1990 when my mother made me turn off Sesame Street. Now 30 years on, I once again had tears streaming down my cheeks during the Lunchbox Theatrical Productions’ and the National Theatre of Great Britain’s War Horse playing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre.
Set during World War One, War Horse follows the close friendship between Albert and his horse Joey. While this is the central storyline that ties the whole production together, the play effortlessly challenges the audience with themes of substance abuse, family feuds, the destruction of war, and the longing to come home.
It would be very easy to spend the rest of this review waxing, almost incessantly, about the puppets, which I will get to later, but without the puppeteers to manoeuvre them and a cast to interact with them, they would be no more than stylised horse statues.
Act one opens to the birth of Joey, hauntingly introduced by the sublime vocals of the Songman (Ben Murray). The Songman quickly takes charge of the story, in almost a narrator-esque role and uses music to portray emotion in a way that dialogue alone would fail to do.
Scott Miller, performing the role of Albert, brings a sensitive realism to his performance. Not only does he manage to portray several different ages of his character, but his interactions with Joey make the audience believe that there is a real horse on stage.
In fact, it is the subtle ways the whole cast interacts with the horses that bring the stark reality of the story to life.
The other notable roles of Rose Narracott (Jo Castleton), Natalie Kimmerling (Emilie), Ted (Colin Connor), and Friedrich (Christopher Naylor) all expertly take ownership of the emotional redirection of their place in the story, leading the 34-strong cast to a triumphant performance.
However, it is the 20 puppets (design and fabricated by Handspring Puppet Company) and the military precision of the puppeteers, under the choreographical genius of Toby Sedgwick, that steal the show. Each flick of the tail, turn of the ear, and stamp of the hoof breathes life into the story transporting the audience to the farms of Devon and the battlegrounds of France.
With only 35 performances scheduled for Sydney before the production moves to Perth, War Horse is one show you honestly won’t want to miss.
– The other Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig is new to the Sydney Arts scene having most recently lived, worked and performed in London. He has a long history with theatre and when not dabbling in the arts (which rarely ever happens), he works in scientific research and loves to travel the world trying new gin. Follow him on all the socials @talldancraig
War Horse runs 15 February – 15 March 2020 at the Sydney Lyric Theatre, 2 hours 40 mins including one interval. Buy your tickets now.