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Canterbury: Review of War Horse by the National Theatre at the Marlowe Theatre

By Angela Cole

Much has been said and written about the world class puppetry in the National Theatre's hugely successful production of War Horse.

But it is only when you see it for yourself that you can truly appreciate what everyone's talking about.

If you want a show that's a barrel of laughs, War Horse is not the show for you.

World class puppetry features in War Horse
World class puppetry features in War Horse

But if you want a show that's going to make you really feel, I urge you to try and get hold of some tickets to see the show (if you can).

In two and a half hours, you will experience most of the emotions we humans can: joy and happiness, and love and affection; sadness and despair, and frustration and anger at the senseless waste of war - it's all there in the deeply touching and poignant tale of Albert and his War Horse, Joey.

When you see the young Joey on stage, with his ears twitching and his little whinnying sounds as he meets Albert for the first time, the three puppeteers with him melt away in your mind within moments.

Billy Irving in War Horse is at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury Picture: Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff
Billy Irving in War Horse is at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury Picture: Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff

It is hard to believe by the end of the show that those steel and material puppets with their puppeteers alongside do not have beating hearts. The sadness you feel for the battle-scarred and exhausted horses on the battlefields of the First World War is so overwhelming, you cannot help but will them to get up and take one more step.

Having read the book and seen the film, War Horse was not what I expected. It was different but so brilliant in its own right, down to the atmospheric music and changing backdrop of scribbled drawings of the war-torn landscape.

Joey the War Horse Picture: Birgit & Ralph Brinkhoff
Joey the War Horse Picture: Birgit & Ralph Brinkhoff

The acting, as you would expect from the National Theatre, was faultless with Thomas Dennis taking us from youthful teenager to battle-weary but still hopeful Albert. Peter Becker playing the German soldier Friedrich, produced a performance which also stood out for me.

The story does not shy away from the at times shocking and horrific realities of life on the frontline, and there are times the trauma is hard going, but there are lighter moments too, and lovely touches of humour, especially provided by Billy Irving with a farmyard goose.

Peter Becker in War Horse
Peter Becker in War Horse

The National Theatre's most successful production ever, War Horse, kicked off its 10th anniversary tour at Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre a few weeks ago. But last night was the night it celebrated the landmark officially - and it was a particularly special night as in the audience was author Michael Morpurgo.

War Horse is at the Marlowe Theatre until Saturday, October 14. Most nights are sold out but there may be a few tickets for some nights. To book go to marlowetheatre.com or call 01227 787787.

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