Never forget the power of War Horse
Damnation has never been so visually stunning.
The National Theatre production of War Horse has galloped back on to the stage at the Lowry Theatre and into the hell of the Western Front in impressive fashion.
Michael Morpurgo's acclaimed novel, brought to the big screen by Steven Spielberg, loses nothing in impact on the stage and indeed this more claustrophobic setting allows for an even more visceral experience.
The tale of the farm boy and his beloved horse who find themselves swept from the idyllic Devon countryside to the mud-strewn horror of the Western Front, crackles along at a rip-roaring pace thanks to the lively acting of Thomas Dennis in the principal role of Albert Narracott.
To credit the part of Albert as the principal character perhaps does a disservice to the real star of the show, title character Joey. The thoroughbred colt turned plough horse turned war horse is masterfully brought to life by puppeteers Joelle Brabban, Kiran Landa, Elizabeth Stretton, Tom Stacy, Lewis Howard and Lucas Button.
A strong supporting cast of Marcus Adolphy, Adam Barlow, Peter Becker, Bob Fox and Jo Castleton provided comradely help.
It cannot be overstated just how magical Joey and his equine partner Topthorne are on stage.
Seeing him transform from a nervous, fledgling foal on the farm to the heroic horse of Flanders is a journey normally befitting a human hero.
The rarely told sacrifice of the 'Forgotton Heroes' of that dreadful conflict was finally brought to the public's attention by Morpurgo's 1982 novel. Around a million horses lost their lives in the war to end all wars, a fact made brutally real in this adroit adaptation from Nick Stafford.
Arriving in this brutal industrialised conflict from the old cavalry dominated battles of Britain's imperial past, the horses find themselves in a very different war as Joey is forced to charge into the maelstrom of machine guns and the back-breaking work of pulling artillery pieces through the sinking mud.
Director Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris brings puppets and actors together on the stage in a thunderous visual treat. Special mention must also be made to designer Rae Smith whose skilled drawings of dreamy Devon to the hellish No Man's Land created a rolling sketchbook backdrop, inspired by the real life sketches of Captain James Nicholls from 1914.
Clever use of lighting and thunderous sound effects create a sensuous experience for an audience who, remarkably, find themselves emotionally drawn to a mechanical horse. Such is the power and skill of the production.
War Horse runs at the Lowry's Lyric Theatre until June 30th. For more information visit https://www.thelowry.com/events/war-horse.