Why I Shed a Tear: War Horse at Wales Millennium Centre Review

*Thanks to WMC for press tickets.

Last night Warren and I were invited to review War Horse at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. I have been intrigued by this stage adaptation for a very long time, Nanny Kim is a massive fan, so it was about time we joined the club!

War Horse at Wales Millennium Centre Review

War Horse focuses on the relationship between Joey, a spirited horse, and Albert, a young boy growing up on a farm with his loving mother and reckless father. At the beginning of World War I his father sells Joey to the British Cavalry and Joey ends up running away to the army to find his beloved horse.

We had no idea what to expect whilst sitting in our seats last night. The stage was set with minimal hints to the show, just a large slither of a screen hung above the stage – throughout the performance the screen gave added layers to each section of the timeline from 1912-1918, as well as gorgeous (and sometimes heartbreaking) imagery for each scene.

When it comes to this particular production, I want to begin by saying that every single person involved gave 100% and more. It is a completely faultless show, and it felt full of love, dedication and professionalism.

Thomas Dennis stars as Albert, the young boy full of love for Joey. He was an utter joy to watch and I adored his performance alongside Joey. Dennis is perfectly cast as the loving, positive and energetic Albert. I could relate to his childlike qualities as he moved around the stage with Joey and interacted with his parents. When he finally decides to brave the war to find his horse, my heart was broken – now two of my favourite characters were at risk from the horror of war.

When it comes to the horse side of things, I am pretty speechless. The puppetry and design is beyond anything I ever imagined. Much likeĀ Pinocchio, as soon as the show begins you see beyond the people; you simply see a horse. The skill and talent of the various horse puppeteers is out of this world, but I have to mention Joey’s…

Lewis Howard is Joey’s heart, Anna Chesser is Joey’s head and Nicky Cross is Joey’s hind. They all work in sync and produce stunning results upon the stage. I thought Chesser’s horse like sound effects were perfectly time and produced and it gave me goosebumps each time Joey came on to the stage. He is mesmerising; hats off to the design team for every single horse produced for this production.

Each time he faced a near death moment during his journey, I felt a lump in my throat. I rooted for Joey from start to finish…

 

I know it might sound silly to some people, but I couldn’t help but think of my dog at home, waiting for me, and how I’d feel if he was taken away from me. This element of being able to relate to the main character drew me into the story even more…

War Horse is an emotional beast, and I adored Bob Fox as the Song Man. Each time he appeared on stage I welled up. His voice, the lyrics and the music broke my heart. I loved how this element of the show steered the story along, and also gave the audience time to reflect and take on board what may have happened the moment before he appeared on stage.

I’d also like to point out how fantastic a few other members of the cast were. Jasper William Cartwright performed as Billy, a soldier on the edge of sanity. His performance was very moving and I felt it hard to watch as his story unfolded. Albert’s parents (Gwilym Lloyd and Jo Castleton) were perfectly cast, with kind hearted Jo taking care of Albert whilst his father presented himself as quite the liability. Good on Lloyd for making me feel so much venom towards his actions; his character was very well portrayed and I felt quite a lot of anger during the show thanks to his frivolous actions!

I think the setting of World War I is incredibly emotive. There are many important layers to this story, form the war to the relationship between Joey and Albert and more. I felt emotionally charged from the offset and I had to fight back tears during the interval.

The second act focused a lot more on the devastation and the impact on mental health due to the war. I thought Peter Becker performed as Friedrich Miller with such sincerity and heartache. His scenes were difficult to watch. All he wants is to see his daughter again, and Topthorn (another horse) gives him a focus and guides him along his road until war consumes him.

Living in Wales, I feel as if we currently live in a world where war sits on the periphery of our minds. It’s not happening on our doorstep, we’re not being torn apart by gunfire and we wake up every day with a roof over our heads and our family around us. To see War Horse is a stark reminder of things happening across the water, things happening in places we can’t see unless we choose to turn on the news and see it.

War Horse reminded me just how lucky we are. But also, how much hope we should have for a better future. After the show I went to the toilets and met another lady there. We were both full of tears. We talked about all the layers of sadness, how lucky we are and how helpless we feel. I felt a connection in this moment, a connection a lot of us probably share. So why don’t we start talking about it? Why don’t we start voicing our sadness? Our feeling of weakness in this world where parents and children are torn apart, homes are destroyed and the bloodshed continues…

Let’s start talking. Let’s cry together. Let’s be honest. Because…

The history of World War I and the devastation caused should never be forgotten.

But, as Michael Morpurgo (author of War Horse) points out, this story’s final destination is all about being reunited, a positive ending to a tormenting tale. I never really knew the figures, but after a quick google I discovered that 16 million people died WWI, and 8 million horses suffered the same fate. Let that sink in a minute…

These figures completely blow my mind. I think War Horse tells this tragedy with honesty and integrity. There are scenes of death layered throughout the production and the sights and sounds of war are perfectly portrayed thanks to expert visuals, lighting and sound effects. I can’t tell you how many times people jumped in their seats at the gunfire.

And all I could think was, it would have been worse than that in real life. So much worse.

So let’s watch War Horse, let’s accept the reality of what has passed and what is happening right now. Because, unfortunately for some parts of the world, it isn’t going away…

War Horse runs until 28th July at Wales Millennium Centre and I implore you to see it. It will change your world.

 

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