War Horse at the Liverpool Empire Review

15 November to 2 December 2017

Reviewed by Jan Mellor

I had seen War Horse on stage a few years ago, had read the book and seen the movie but was giddy with excitement to see it up north in the wonderful Liverpool Empire. I took my 13-year-old son and hoped it would not be too emotional for him, but as I entered the theatre, jammed between a school group of 50 or so 10-12 year olds, I realised that this was a show for children too.

The story of the horror of the First World War, the devastation, hurt, anguish, cruelty and fear of the days of the Somme in France covering the years of 1914-1916 was hauntingly portrayed through the eyes of an extraordinary horse – Joey. Joey an outstanding structure of steel rods, costume and amazing artists (too many to name) was an absolutely stunning sight to behold (as was his comrade in battle Topthorn) and had the audience transfixed throughout the performance. The ‘slash’ across the stage becoming a moving feast of visions that showed us Devon villages, war-torn fields and starry nights. The minimal props on stage gave way to an arena filled with superb talent and outstanding story telling.

The singer (the wonderful voice of Bob Fox) who carried us through each scene with his Irish melodies, the superb choreography of all the cast, the talented artists who performed the feats of moving the amazing horse structures and the phenomenal way that we were all dragged through the battlefields were all outstanding.

The heart-felt story of how a young boy, Albert Narracott (played brilliantly by Thomas Dennis), devotes his life to that of his precious stallion Joey and against all odds. His heartless and drunken father, played superbly by Gwilym Lloyd, poverty and being separated from Joey when the horse is ‘conscripted’ to the war effort leads us to meeting with his friend in the final emotional scene when both are united, is a tale that would pull on the heart-strings of anyone who has ever loved and cherished an animal. The war scenes were dramatic and authentic and enabled the audience to experience the barbaric horror and sheer desperation of these times. It enabled us all to remember the courage and determination of the thousands of these war horses who fought as bravely as their riders and perished in similar numbers.

The acting was amazing and we all felt compassion for the German Friedrick Muller, played wonderfully by Peter Becker, when he showed his love of the beast of burden too .This show is a must see for anyone who enjoys a story of devotion and the desperate desire to be reunited with someone they love. The way it is portrayed isn’t mawkish but shows how determination can reap rewards. Of course, my son and I cried at parts (who wouldn’t?) but the show was an absolute joy to behold.

This is an amazing insight into the impact the First World War had on families, communities and friends. It is portrayed in a realistic and unsentimental way but portrays the love and devotion of a young boy and his faith in this animal to survive and to be reunited with him. The horses in the show are managed by a very talented group of people who although are seen by the audience fade away as the animals take on personalities and depths of their own. Every member of the cast was superb, and we empathised and felt compassion for them all. For a journey into history, for a journey into the love of horses, for a journey into another time, another way of life, another passion – this show is a must see. The media describe this show as phenomenal and that is a word I would definitely use to describe this work of art. SEE THIS SHOW!

An amazing experience!

Rating: 5/5

Tickets cost from £13 to £60.90 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).

War Horse is at the Liverpool Empire from 15 November to 2 December 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/liverpool or call the box office on 0844 8713017.

Liverpool Empire Theatre, Lime Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 1JE | 0844 8713017

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