Months ago, my boyfriend's father was in town and he was raving about a production of War Horse that he saw in London. He enjoyed it so much, that he bought tickets for us to see it at the Ahmanson theater last night. (A huge, huge thank you if you happen to be reading this blog!).
I had mixed feelings going into the show. I was trying hard to separate the stage version from the movie. I can't sugarcoat it, the 2011 Steven Spielberg adaptation was a piece of crap. An overwrought, painfully sentimental piece of horse crap. In my opinion, one of the worst movies of 2011. I couldn't believe that it got an a Best Picture nomination.
That said, my first exposure to any incarnation of War Horse was during the 2011 season at the Ahmanson. In the lobby, they had a video loop of clips of shows coming for the 2012 season and War Horse was featured. I was absolutely mesmerized by the amazing horse puppets and immediately knew that I had to see the show. This was before seeing the movie or knowing much about the plot, if I could only catch one big show in 2012, it was going to be War Horse.
I wish that I hadn't seen the movie first. I feel like the stage production would have been a very different experience and much more moving, if I had not known what to expect. The plot is clunky and the pacing is uneven, often running slow.
However, that does not diminish the fact that the show is incredible on many levels. First and most obvious, hands down the best puppeteering that I have ever seen. Each horse (at times the stage was filled with horses) has three puppeteers controlling the movements. It's flawless. It really felt like real horses were on stage. The puppeteers all create distinctive personalities for each horse and they were as much of a character as any actor on the stage. The actors were fine, but overshadowed by the horses, the real stars. Completely stunning to watch. The goose puppet was a favorite character!
The set was simplistic and perfect. Mostly a giant space with minimal props and a giant project screen to help set the scene. The use of lighting was imaginative. If someone was interested in becoming a lighting designer, this was the show to watch and take notes. Even though the show had the spectacle of the amazing horse puppets, this was not a show that relied on gimmicks. Nothing was extraneous. This is probably the aspect of the show that I respected the most.
I respected that the theater version did not beat me over the head with sentimentality. It had a bit, but wasn't overbearing like Spielberg's version. The play was much more balanced and cutting out the the last fifteen minutes that were in the movie went a long way. It ended just on the right note. I may have felt the story was slow, but there is so much about the production that they got right, I can't help but write an overwhelmingly positive review.
Go see War Horse!!!