War Horse The National Theatre Play Review 2019

In this War Horse play review I explore the National Theatre Company's masterful use of animation, storytelling, puppetry, music and scenic arts.

The stage show of War Horse by the National Theatre Company at the Civic Theatre on the 12th of July, including a backstage tour with a principal actor.  

I have seen many stage shows adapted from novels, but never have I experienced puppetry and animation woven so seamlessly into a performance.

War Horse was adapted into a script by Nick Stafford in 2007 from Michael Morpurgo’s best selling novel.  Michael Morpurgo’s original reaction to Nick Stafford’s play adaptation ambitions consisted of “you must be mad”.  12 years later the extremely successful show has toured all around the globe.

The actors of war horse guide you through the story of a passionate sixteen year old Albie struggling through the first world war to find his beloved horse Joey, who his father sold off to the war effort.


Image from minitravellers.co.uk showing the projected animated illustrations, the horse puppet of Joey and the Musician/Narrator.

a139853d830aef4ce4f802ed31d0556e49cfad8b.jpgOne of the projected illustrations by Rae Smith.

I cannot fault the detail and dedication that went into war horse from the visual design elements such as costume and set, to the focus and characterisation of the actors.  I have always connected well to animation so when I witnessed war horse having a projector screen in the back ground of the set, showcasing animation through the performance I was very enthused.  I think the Projector screen was symbolically shaped like a horse shoe or a ripped yellowing piece of paper.  Animations shown were simple consisting of few colours and often featured scenes of the countryside with horses galloping, as well as war explosions and blood coloured poppies.  The projected animation was a fantastic and unique element to the experience of War Horse and my favourite component of the show.  

Puppetry was also a masterfully executed piece of war horse.  The large heavy Horse puppets were manned by up to four actors.  The South African horse puppet designs combined with the actors' portrayal of movement created very realistic seeming horses.

A brilliant character in War Horse was the narrator, who played the violin and sang at key moments in the story.  I very much enjoyed his scenes and they added emotion into the show.  On reflection I would have liked to hear some other instrumental music being played as more of a soundtrack to create slightly more auditory engagement.  

9fbdc301f92c6375c681c12060c139312ee6cf0d.PNGImage taken back stage pre show.

I learnt a lot in particular about the puppets and the set during a backstage tour with one of the actors.  We were privileged to see the puppets up close, as well as feeling the stage flooring which had been designed to reflect the jagged stone turfs of war and the projected animation.  It was interesting to hear about how there are multiple puppet fixers as backstage crew who were constantly busy working to repair and maintain the detailed engineering that went into the horse puppets.

To anyone looking for a superbly designed show with artistic components as well as flawless scenes and acting conveying a timeless story The National Theatre’s War Horse is a can not miss!

Header Image Credit: Rae Smith


Sophia Mullender

Sophia Mullender

"creativity takes courage" - Henri Matisse

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  • Sienna James

    On 1 October 2019, 23:01 Sienna James Voice Team commented:

    This is an exceptional review, Sophia! I'm so glad you enjoyed War Horse. Do you think it accurately portrayed the storyline in the book?

  • Sophia Mullender

    On 11 October 2019, 00:34 Sophia Mullender commented:

    Hi Sienna, thanks, it’s great to hear your feedback. Although there were differences, I thought the characters in War Horse in particular were very accurately portrayed. I think that the soul and meaning of Michael Morpurgo's story was beautifully well kept by the National Theatre Company.

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