Thursday, May 17, 2012

War Horse and the willing supsension of disbelief

Image of horse puppet from The Daily Mail

It's amazing how willing the mind is to suspend disbelief. The horses in the show are transparent hand-made puppets,  operated by teams of three men each, who are perfectly visible, though not obvious. Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town relates the story of how the astonishing Joey puppet was brought to life.

Equine star Joey is seen walking in this clip taken at Sandown Park. Like the little girl in the video who wants to feed Joey, the adult audience of War Horse believes in the puppet horses, especially when witnessing the astonishing feats of horse-like behaviour and sound produced by the puppeteers.

Along with four other Tonys, War Horse has just won a Tony for Best Play. Besides London, it is currently showing in New York, Toronto, Berlin and Melbourne.

Back home in Surrey, we had intended to see the movie War Horse, but it left our suburban theatre, and we didn't get around to tracking it down at another location. Now here I am at the New London Theatre, watching it live on stage.

I almost didn't manage to see it here. Then, on my last day in London, I made the decision to go, knowing that the regrets of life are for what we leave undone. I approached the theatre box office about 15 minutes before the matinee and asked if there were still  tickets available.

"I can do you one for ten pounds, with a restricted view" came the reply, "or I can do you one for forty."

I considered briefly. The ten pound ticket for The Master Class had been far back and high up.

"I'll go for forty."

The ticket seller spoke to a colleague and picked up a ticket that lay between them, then turned back and slid it across. "You can have this for forty," he said. Row D in the stalls: fifty-five pounds.

Ten minutes later, I was watching the World War I drama of horse and man from the the centre section, right in front of the stage. First the wager, then the domestic scenes, the colt, the shift to the comic relief of a quacking goose puppet that looked and behaved like a real goose. The grown horse then, and the horrors of the war, with its gas attacks and tanks feeling real and terrifying. And the young man separated from his beloved horse.

By the time it was over I was in tears. Relief, release, catharsis. Walked out into Drury Lane in the cool dry evening, heading for High Holborn. A stellar way to end my London stay.

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