Theatre: The Ride of Your Life

War Horse2

WarHorse is huge. Not only the massive puppet horse, Joey, on stage, but also the entire production. Playing through March 9 at the Arsht Center, WarHorse is overwhelming. This a show that batters the emotions and the senses. Even the most cynical will find it almost impossible to resist the tale of a boy and his horse, separated by war. Even the most sophisticated will be enmeshed in the horrors of the First World War.

It’s stage craft magic at its best throughout the evening. English lad owns big, beautiful horse. His father sells the horse to the army for cavalry charges in the mud of France. Lad enlists to find his horse.

You guess the outcome. Right. But you won’t guess how well this simple tale is told.

The puppetry is astounding; the two lead horses, Joey and Topthorn, each manipulated by three puppeteers, are alive and irresistible. The largest leap, the smallest breath, is not beyond them.

An evil tempered goose patrols the farmyard, birds fly overhead.

Staging by suggestion is the rule. An auction ring delineated by a couple of horizontal wooden poles, a simple door for a house, a few metal rods as a ship’s prow rising and falling in the heavy seas of the English channel. A terrifying tank in Flanders.

A white cloud stretches across the stage and on this are ever changing superimposed line drawings of the English countryside, the blasting explosions, the lights and violence of the battlefields. Spreading pools of blood that turn into the red poppies of Flanders fields. The rattle of the machine guns, the bursting shells, the moans and shrieks are terrifying in their realism.

There are 45 actors in WarHorse and all are equally strong. Accents are spot on. There is a song man commenting on each scene and several songs by the company. Words, however, are sometimes difficult to discern. And that’s my only carp.

This is a National Theatre of Great Britain production with direction by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr. Costumes, lights, sound all of the very best.

The technical side of WarHorse is impressive, so much so that it becomes the over riding memory after the evening is over. But be aware, this show is all about emotion. Your buttons will be pushed. And you won’t be able to resist. Personally, I don’t do sad. Don’t like it, never have. But like the lady in the row behind me who moaned “Oh, no” at the death of a horse, I couldn’t fight off that lump in the throat.

Good theatre will do that.

WarHorse at the Adrienne Arsht Center through March 9. 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami. 305-949-6722 http://www.arshtcenter.org

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