When the lights came back on after last night’s two-and-a-half hour long performance of War Horse — the first of eight total performances during the play’s five-day run in Spokane — more than a few show-goers were blinking back a welling of emotion in their slightly reddened eyes.
The story of a teenage boy, Albert Narracott, and his beloved horse, Joey, who are unexpectedly torn apart by war, was not without heartbreak and loss, as any true-to-life war drama should be. Though the story starts out in England's Devon countryside, most of the performance later on is set on the harsh battlefields of World War I. Intense flashes of light and a fog machine make the on-stage battles come to life, but the most realistic effects in War Horse are undoubtedly its horse puppets.
The handmade, life-size horse puppets — each handled by a team of three actors; one actor maneuvers the puppet’s head and the other two are inside its frame moving its body and legs — are what make the stage version of War Horse a magical and emotional experience for the audience; children and adults alike. Read more about how War Horse’s puppets come to life here.
I spoke to two of the cast members who play the role of War Horse’s central character Joey, along with doing a fair amount of research on the show including reading its plot synopsis, so there weren’t any twists or surprises that I didn’t expect. Even though I knew how the story would end, there were still plenty of scenes during which I fought to keep down the lump in my throat. War Horse uses a number of innate emotional paths — animals, family, friends, war, loyalty, honor and kindness — to speak directly to the human condition in all of us.
Patrick Osteen, who rotates between the roles of Joey and the play’s other main horse, Topthorn, says that while War Horse is based on a book that was written for younger audiences, it’s not an overly happy, upbeat production. (The title of the play is, after all, War Horse.)
“It’s not a story that shies away from tackling some very large and aggressive themes,” Osteen told The Inlander in a phone interview before the touring production made its Spokane stop. “World War I was an extremely tough war for the entire world, but for England especially… and that is something we’re wrestling with in telling this story. It’s a story about a kid who sacrifices everything to follow his friend.”
If you asked any of the audience members who saw last night’s performance, it's almost certain they’d tell you to get out there to see War Horse before it heads out of town after this Saturday. For tickets to the show, go here.