REVIEW: War Horse, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until June 9
Did we really just see a First World War cavalry charge being mown down and blown to bits?
No matter how many times you see it, War Horse remains as remarkable as ever - an astonishing feat of stagecraft and imagination which thrillingly underlines theatre’s unique ability to take us to places you just can quite believe possible.
This is a production with the most enormous physical impact, quite stunningly lit but perhaps, above all, blessed with the true magic of puppetry.
The actors can act their socks off, but it’s hard to take your eyes off their gee gees, brought to life in the minutest of detail, never still, ears moving, feet stamping, exhaling, twitching... so real in fact that you almost stop seeing the puppeteers who animate them so superbly.
Michael Morpurgo’s tale takes us from the ploughed fields of the West Country to the battlefields of northern France, as Albert enlists, under-age, to search for his beloved Joey, the horse his dodgy dad sold to the army.
There is a lovely even-handedness in the writing. We are not watching plucky Brits versus evil Hun. The Germans – in the person of Friedrich Muller (the excellent Peter Becker) – succumb to Joey’s humanising charms.
But it’s Albert Narracott – beautifully played by Thomas Dennis – we are rooting for as he searches for reunion.
This is theatre at its most epic – believable, brilliant and utterly engrossing.