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OMGWTF War Horse at Lincoln Center

April 5, 2011

So guys, remember last August when I became super excited about the upcoming production of War Horse? Well gang, it began previews here in NYC at Lincoln Center in mid March and I finally got to see it this past weekend.  All I have to say is, OMG…WTF… (Yes, it earned the omgwtf moniker previously earned by Lost and Inception).

The story revolves around a horse named Joey, a red bay from rural England. He is taken from his simple farm and forced into the English army cavalry. Fighting to survive the hardships of trench warfare, Joey simply longs to return to his teenage master, Albert, back on the farm. From the show’s website: “The First World War is the backdrop for this tale of bravery, loyalty, and the extraordinary bond between a young recruit and his horse. Actors, working with astonishing life-sized puppets by the internationally renowned Handspring Puppet Company, take audiences on an unforgettable journey through history.”

This production was so utterly beautiful and the puppetry so awesome, I might shell out and see it again before it closes on June 26th.  When my mom, lil’ cousin, friend and I arrived at Lincoln Center we immediately began to peruse the souvenir counter. I noticed that they had a CD for sale of the music from the show. “Music??? ” said I, my eyes lighting up. I thought the Irishy music was only used for the TV spots and previews?? No no, the souvenir counter lass informed me. War Horse is technically a Play with Music (something sort of in between a straight play and musical theater). Well bust my buttons.

Throughout the show there is a lass who sings and plays the fiddle, accompanied by a male vocalist who also plays the accordion. For the NYC production, the lead vocalist is a woman named Kate Pfaffl, a singer/songwriter whose been nicknamed “Mighty Kate” by her fans. You can check out more of her on her website. The London version, as well as the CD, feature a male vocalist in the lead spot named Tim van Eyken. There are definite things that I like about both of the voices, and the music itself was truly as much a part of the show as the puppetry and acting. I actually shelled out to buy the CD afterward (though it is readily available on iTunes). The music is also more English Folk, but it sounds totally Irishy! Check out some of the music in this video below. (The animation is from a film called Spirit, someone mashed the two together, it’s actually kind of fitting).



Now, as for the puppetry…I can’t rave about it enough. The horses, Joey and Topthorn, were SO FREAKING COOL. From the wee Baby Joey, to the adult horses, everything was beautifully done. Here’s some more background from Discreet News: “Toby Sedgwick, the director of movement and horse sequences, instructs the puppeteers on the fine points of how to express life — and death — in their inanimate animals…Fifteen performers manipulate the show’s puppets, slipping inside the beast and pushing internal levers that regulate everything from the horse’s knees to its ear wiggles. They also add the horses’ sound effects — the whinnying and snorting…Each puppeteer must master three-person horses — two puppeteers inside the body and one leading the head — as well as two-person horses and smaller, one-person horses, such as foals. Other puppets of soldiers and real actors jump aboard for brief stretches. The work is so intense that physical therapists regularly check on the cast.” Apparently, the NYC  production is also getting Joey 2.0: “The American production is enjoying a whole new set of puppets re-engineered by the original creators, Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company, which was founded in South Africa in 1981.’They’re lighter, stronger, more elegant mechanically than the originals,’ says Jones during a break in rehearsals. ‘The puppeteers who tested them in London before they came over here to New York were, I think, quite jealous.'” There was also a cute and silly goose and a few more less elaborate horses, but Joey and Topthorn were really the stars of the show.

There were a few moments in the show, whole scenes at points, where nothing much was really happening. The puppeteers simply worked their magic and maneuvered the horses around the stage as the audience looked on in awe. It was so intricate and life like, it didn’t even matter that nothing was really happening plot wise. (Not to say there was no plot. The story and World War I background is actually quite heart wrenching and suspenseful). It was simply so enthralling to watch, and those moments of peace observing the horse were pure pleasure. Take a look at some videos of Joey at various events below:

Joey meets a real horse!

Here’s a video of the creators behind the brilliant Handspring Puppet Company and the evolution of the War Horse puppets. They even explain how my favorite scene in the show (an awesome moment near the beginning when Baby Joey rears up in excitement and is replaced out of the shadows by the full grown Joey puppet) was the moment that convinced director of the National Theater gave the production the green light. (The more War Horse centric parts begin at the 8 minute mark, after that they bring out Joey!).

Finally, here are three videos from behind the scenes created by actor Matt Doyle for Lincoln Center’s media outreach. They include some cast and puppet moments, as well as an adorable cast tradition of singing one of the songs back stage before the start of the show:

The entire production was simply stunning. Bravo to the Handspring Puppet Company, The National Theater, Lincoln Center and all of the actors, performers, crew and puppeteers involved. You’ve truly created a masterpiece with War Horse.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Hester permalink
    April 6, 2011 3:29 am

    Great review! I saw it three times in London and am so sad I can’t see this production in the US too. From a Brit point of view it’s funny you think the music is ‘Irishy’ as it is *totally* English folk – I guess you over there haven’t been exposed to enough English folk music. You should try it!

    Here’s a couple more videos you might like: Hope you can understand the hosts’s Scouse (Liverpool) accent – just channel John, Paul, George and Ringo and you’ll get it! the new 2011 cast in London with some great puppetry shots

    Keep up the good work!

    • April 6, 2011 10:53 am

      I’m not knowledgable in English Folk really, but am quite familiar with Irish music. Lived there for a while and my mother’s family is Irish. I could bore any fellow American with the differences between Irish Pipes and Scottish, all that jazz. But anything with an accent, a fiddle and an accordion reminds me of Ireland. From a Brit point of view yeah the discrepancies are probably there, just like intricacies of accents over there and in America. Thanks for reading!

    • April 6, 2011 11:03 am

      Great videos thanks! The accents weren’t too hard for me, but then again, studying theater I’ve studied/learned accents 🙂


  1. War Horse: Novel, Stage and Screen « Critic Behind the Curtain

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