Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Warhorse, New London Theatre

Last night I went to see Warhorse, the National Theatre's super-hit First World War play starring a puppet horse. If nothing else it's a dazzling technical triumph: not only a tumble of crisp sound and lighting cues but also an exemplar of stagecraft. There's the innovative use of puppeteering. There's also the vigorous use of the stage-and-stalls space of the (superb) New London Theatre. The players run through the aisles and up to the very lip of the stage. The proximity of feet and flying paraphernalia makes for a raw, exposed, indeed a genuinely visceral experience. This is important in live theatre - and vital for this story that trades in sudden moments of mortal peril.

Warhorse also includes a great deal of music. Famously the play became a Hollywood film with a score by John Williams. I might say that Adrian Sutton's score is comparably effective in this live situation (and, like many good scores, works well alongside Christopher Shutt's sound design).

In addition there are a number of important, narrative-style songs by John Tams. It's not entirely clear whether these are original compositions or arrangements of folk songs. They're performed by a single minstrel - Ben Murray - as well as the rest of the cast at apposite moments. Rendered in the direct, narrative folk style they are nonetheless operatic in function, solipsistic reflection that stands at a footstep's remove from the play itself.

It was great to see this show at the end of a long and successful run with a familiar company at ease with their material and each other.

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