Review: War Horse at Birmingham Hippodrome

by Dave Massey twitter.com/BrumHour

War Horse at Birmingham Hippodrome

War Horse has arrived at Birmingham Hippodrome until 3rd November, and last night I was lucky enough to attend the press performance of this must-see National Theatre production.

Starting in 1912, we see Albert (Thomas Dennis) trying to stop his father, Ted (Gwilym Lloyd), using the mortgage money to bid against his brother, Arthur (William Ilkley), for a horse at a local auction. Ted’s wife, Rose (Jo Castleton), is angry when they return home with the horse, but they soon see the bond between Albert and his horse, now named Joey.

War Horse Photo by Brinkhoff and Mgenburg
War Horse Photo by Brinkhoff and Mgenburg

Two years or so later, and the The Great War (First World War) has begun, Lieutenant Nicholls (Ben Ingles) buys Joey from Albert’s father, and Albert tries to sign up for the army too, but now aged sixteen he is too young.

After Lieutenant Nicholls is killed in combat a short time later, his book of drawings, including those of Joey, are sent to Albert, and Albert realises that Joey is no longer likely to be returned home, without the word of the Lieutenant. Albert sets out to sign up, and finds himself in France looking for his beloved horse.

Joey and a goose by Brinkhoff and Mgenburg
Joey and a goose by Brinkhoff and Mgenburg

As with many of the current year of touring shows at Birmingham Hippodrome, War Horse is based on a book and is also a film, but none have the massive close to home poignancy of Michael Morpurgo’s war linked novel which is starkly brought to life with warmth, humour, folk songs and brutal honesty.

Lit like an arena gig, with huge golden lights, the stage often switches to bright white light during intense moments, of which there are many. The stage has a simple strip of white in the shape of a long cloud which projects the scenery from Devon to the battle of the Somme. I found myself jumping in my seat at some of the gunfire and explosions on the stage as life and war in the 1910s is depicted vividly. This isn’t really a production suitable for primary aged children.

Soldiers line up Photo by Brinkhoff and Mgenburg
Soldiers line up Photo by Brinkhoff and Mgenburg

Joey and the other horses on stage including Topthorn are life size framed models each played by three performers from a group of twelve. Sometimes I forgot they were on stage as the horses become their own characters, when Joey is on stage he is all I look at, watching his realistic movements and hearing the sounds he makes.

If you get chance to see this production please do so, it is such an important part of our history and demonstrates the horror of war.

War Horse is at Birmingham Hippodrome until 3rd November. Book tickets here: birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/war-horse


This isn’t a sponsored post. #BrumHour was invited to see War Horse by Birmingham Hippodrome.

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