Albert Narracott (Alex Furber) with Joey (Adam Cook) War Horse Canadian cast 2012. Photo by Brinkhoff / Mögenburg

Trot your way into the magical world of Mirvish’s War Horse

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 4)

When Michael Morpurgo wrote War Horse in 1982, he had no idea that his children’s story would touch the hearts of many. 25 years later, War Horse went from a mere book to a subject of deep conversation within the arts community. It’s been adapted into three successful stage productions as well as an Oscar-nominated film. After successfully greeting the West End & gracing the stage on Broadway, the magical production of War Horse took residency in Toronto at Mirvish’s Princess of Wales Theatre, fueled by an all-Canadian cast.

War Horse tells the tale of  Albert Narracott (Alex Furber) & his beloved horse Joey (Brad Cook, Bryan Hindle, Caden Douglas). After purchasing Joey from a local auction, Albert devoted much of his time caring for the horse and its upbringing, developing a bond of friendship and respect. When WW1 breaks out, the two are distanced from one another when Albert’s father (Richard McMillan) sells Joey to the cavalry, to the company of Captain Nicholls (Brendan Murray), who promises to take care of Joey. When Nicholls’ is killed in action, Joey begins an extraordinary journey through war and suffering, serving on both sides & fighting fate to stay alive. When Albert hears of Captain Nicholls’ death, he leaves his family, fakes his age and enlists in the British Army with only one one item on his agenda: find Joey and bring him back home.

War Horse has transformed theatre forever. The amount of detail in this production is mind boggling. The most obvious is of course the puppetry. Puppets have been used in shows for years but never in this capacity or form. Joey is an absolutely magnificent sight. The moment he appears on stage, you are captivated by his presence. The details in the craftsmanship is amazing. The puppeteers use these intricately designed pieces to give life to something that has none in a way that cannot be described . The smallest of details such as the movement of the ears to the wiggling of the tail can be seen perfectly. It does take a moment or two for one to observe the puppet rather than the puppeteers, but after that small hurdle is dealt with, you actually feel like there is a horse on stage. You are completely in awe throughout the entire production looking at these magnificent beasts doing what they would do in reality, but in this case done by puppeteers. Its brilliant!

The cast of this show go beyond acting. They live their roles. Would love to go and list every single person and how amazing they are but this post would probably become a book by the time its done. You see actors on stage that bring a certain flare to their individual characters. The story is about war and how the elements of love, friendship and respect create bonds that last forever. These are elements that are pretty difficult to portray live on stage authentically. You have to mean it to truly showcase such emotions and the cast do that very well. Their individual accents are spot on and the dialogue isn’t dreary at all at any given time in the play. The one thing the cast excelled at was the way they showcased humour in this production. Most of the time, productions misuse humour as a way to break a monotonous scene or to just change the mood. Most of the time, it makes no sense. In War Horse though, the cast portrays humour indicative of the period. Humour is built into conversation and used appropriately, matching the mood of a particular scene. There are scenes where you want to cry but it is a happy scene, and the careful use of dialogue helps create that feeling. The cast are just brilliant performers!

The cast and crew of this amazing production have created something that is magical in every way. Unparalleled creativity coupled with magical performances. War Horse is a work of art that will reward you with an experience unheard of. This is an absolute must-see theatre event!

War Horse plays at Mirvish’s Princess of Wales Theatre until September 30th 2012. For tickets, please visit www.mirvish.com/shows/warhorse

Advisory: Production contains strobe lighting, smoke effects, recorded explosion and gun shots.