Review: ‘War Horse’ at the Liverpool Empire

After eight record-breaking years on London’s West and performances in 11 countries around the world, the theatre phenomenon that is ‘War Horse’ has finally made it to the Liverpool stage.

So was it worth the wait? In a word, yes. In a few more; absolutely, definitely, positively, categorically.

For those unfamiliar with tale, War Horse tells the story of Albert and his cherished steed Joey, who are thrust from the placid Devon countryside onto the battlefields of France during World War One.

The National Theatre’s production has been justifiably famed for its use of puppets to portray the horses and they certainly didn’t disappoint in the flesh.

Looming large over the audience and masterfully controlled by the puppeteers, Joey and friends were undoubtedly the stars for many and I defy anyone with pets not the be touched by Albert and Joey’s tender relationship.

However, War Horse wouldn’t have been wowing audiences for over a decade if it were merely a glorified puppet show.

It’s as much a human story as an equine one, and the actors merit just as high praise as South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.

Thomas Dennis as Albert and Peter Becker as Friedrich in particular, deserved to be signalled out for their powerful performances which are delivered with an arresting earnestness and intensity.

Equally as memorising were the special effects. By the time to action moves to the Western Front, you really do feel like you’re in the trenches with the characters as shells rain down from above and bullets whizz about.

Just a little heads up – when a gun gets in fired on stage, it really does get fired.

So surprised was my partner by the first gunshot that she sent the contents of her glass of Pinot Grigio hurtling over the lady next to her. Thankfully our fellow theatregoer, and her husband, saw the funny side of my date’s skittish behaviour.

This brief moment of off-stage slapstick offered some comic relief from the action in front of us, which by this point had become oppressively grim. But war is hell and War Horse makes no attempt to hide this – nor should it.

Going over the top.

Nick Stafford’s reimagining of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel is an utter triumph; leaping from breathtaking action scenes to tear-jerking moments swifter than a thoroughbred at Ascot.

Don’t miss your chance to see it at the Liverpool Empire because who knows how long you’ll have to wait until this spellbinding production rides into town again.

‘War Horse’ is at the Liverpool Empire until 2 December.

About Author: Lawrence Saunders

Lawrence is a journalist at Your Move. He can be contacted via email at lawrence@movepublishing.co.uk or by phone on 0151 709 3871.