|Horse in Port Meadow, England|
I usually prefer the original book to the adaption, but War Horse by Michael Morpurgo improved on stage. The novel follows a horse and his boy from a farm in Devon, England to the battlefields of World War I France. In reality, the cavalry was pitted against machine guns, barbed wire, trenches and tanks. Over 15 million people and 8 million horses died. War Horse does not glorify war but remembers the bravery and sacrifices of those who served, both human and equine.
Although the book was very good, it was absurd to have a horse narrate a story of war brutality in which many sympathetic characters suffer and die. Animal narrators belong in innocent books for young children. Furthermore, the voice wasn’t believably equine, and there was no explanation for how a farm horse could understand three languages. We also lose track of the boy’s story when they part. An omniscient third person narrator would have worked better. Still, what a great story!
Oddly enough, moving the story to the stage with horse puppets created more realism. The puppets didn’t speak, and they acted like true horses: snorting, galloping and even breathing. It was hard to see them abused because you believed they were alive. There was nothing childish or cutesy about these puppets, and the war scenes were horrific and loud. In fact, I would not recommend this play to families with young children or sensitive teenagers because it was terrifyingly real.
War Horse is a must see for a mature audience. Not only were the puppetry, acting and singing fabulous, the staging was gorgeously artistic. A cloud-like backdrop became an animated sketchbook. As the actor rode the puppet horse, an ink drawing of them galloped across the rolling fields. Later the screen projected battle scenes as the stage spun or broke into trenches. The play was true to the spirit of the book, but the secondary characters and the plot were condensed and modified for more poignancy and greater realism.
War Horse at Lincoln Center, NYC
War Horse is currently playing in London and in New York City. It won 5 Tonys, including best play in 2011 and extended its run. In 2012 War Horse is due to open in Toronto and will simultaneously tour American cities. My parents (thank you!) took my teenaged children and me to the New York production over Thanksgiving. I purchased the ebook and read it before seeing the play. Thank you, Bee, for the recommendation.
Steven Spielberg’s film adaption of War Horse will open on Christmas Day, 2011.
Update Movie Review: my husband (who's family comes from Devon) and I were disappointed by the film version of War Horse. The movie was overly sentimental with too many characters, and the film looked obviously photoshopped (ie a tropical red sunset in Devon). The best part was the first half set in England, even if the actors didn't get the Devonian accents right. The later war scenes felt contrived, and the farm in France was absurdly bucolic. Go see the play (best) or read the book instead.
Theater Watch: on a lighter note, we also saw and loved Noel Coward’s Private Lives on Broadway. Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall were superb.