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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Thoroughbred War Horse Gallops into the Paramount

Also see David's review of Next to Normal

War Horse
Joey as portrayed by Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton and Rob Laqui
It's one thing for a highly anticipated show to live up to near universal raves. It's another when that show turns out to be the finest piece of stagecraft you have ever seen. War Horse, the epic production based on Michael Morpurgo's novel, as adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford, is, to be sure, a sentimental, episodic tale of a young man and his treasured horse, through separation by war and their unlikely reunion on a battlefield. But the wonder of this production, through the uncanny skill of Directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, in collaboration with the brilliant Handspring Puppet Company, is making this tale a triumph of stagecraft, heretofore unseen and hard to imagine being surpassed.

In 1914 Devon, England just prior to WWI, a foal is bid on by the Narracott brothers, well-off Arthur and his brother Ted, the town drunk and coward. Ted bids his family's mortgage money to win the horse, and his son Albert raises the horse, whom he comes to cherish, naming him Joey. When the war breaks out, Ted sells Joey to the cavalry, breaking his word that he would always belong to Albert. Lieutenant James Nicholls, who originally bid alongside Albert for Joey and often sketched Albert and Joey riding together, promises that he will look after Joey personally, and at the same time Arthur enlists Ted's cousin Billy to fight despite Billy's protests. Joey and Topthorn, another army horse, are shipped to France. There, the British army are overwhelmed by the destructive technology of the Germans—machine guns, barbed wire, and tanks. During the first charge, Nicholls is shot and killed. Billy finds himself riding Joey into battle and is taken by German forces. Nicholls' sketchbook is sent to Albert, who receives it on Christmas. Horrified by the fact that Joey is out there unprotected, Albert enlists in the army by lying about his age. The tale continues through to the end of the war, as we follow both Albert and Joey, and the men on both sides of the war. The horses, portrayed with such skill by the actors under the brilliant Horse Vhoreography of Toby Sedgwick, become utterly believable after mere moments. The ugliness of war and sacrifice of both men and horses makes for a tearful viewing, no mater how stoic the playgoer may think they are.

Leading performances of note include Andrew Veenstra as the always hopeful Albert, Todd Cerveris as his complex father Ted, Angela Reed as Albert's tough yet tender mother Rose, Alex Moore as Albert's soldier pal David, Andrew May as the conflicted Captain Mueller, and John Milosich, who sings tender, achingly moving and atmospheric songs throughout the play. A special nod must be given to all the actors manipulating the horses, including Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton and Rob Laqui who manipulate Joey. The entire cast is tireless, artful and inspirational, the very definition of true ensemble.

Rae Smith's sets, costumes and drawings are amazingly artful, and the splendid animation and projection design by 59 Productions is quite breathtaking. Seattle Repertory Theatre co-presents this stop of the War Horse national tour with Seattle Theatre Group and the Broadway at the Paramount series, a true gift to Seattle audiences.

War Horse runs through February 24, 2013, at the Paramount Theatre. For tickets or information visit the Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit broadwaytour.net/war-horse-tour.


Photo © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg



- David Edward Hughes



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