Tuesday, June 21, 2011

War Horse

War Horse is a visually stunning, brilliantly produced puppet-based performance. But after seeing the shattering revival of The Normal Heart earlier in the day, this weak (but Tony-winning) play had no shot at moving me. If War Horse--written by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford--were a better play, that would be a shame. But it's not. The play with music (completely boring music) is based on what seems to be a trite children's story (I haven't read it). Although it's boring as a play for adults, it seems like it would be horrifyingly depressing and overly terrifying as a children's story. And, if the adaptation is of equal intensity to the original, I would question the parenting skills of anyone who would let their elementary-school-age child read this (and I can't imagine it holding the attention of anyone older).

For anyone who has seen any war movie before, or has basic reasoning skills, the major events are completely foreshadowed. Nothing surprising happens in the play, especially the ending. And the characters are paper thin. But WOW, the show is beautiful to look at. I mean, the National Theatre knows how to make gorgeous, gorgeous productions. Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris direct the crap out of the lackluster material, and the acting performances are good, given the lack of material. But the only reason to see this show is for the projections, actors as set design, and (HOLY HORSE!!!) THE PUPPETS.

Erase what you think you know about puppets and go check out some of the videos of this production. You don't need to see the show, but you do need to see the amazing work the puppet designers and handlers have done. (Check out especially the one called War Horse Video Excerpts here or watch the one below.) Really, the Handspring Puppet Company and the performers who bring these horses to life are remarkable. It is that alone that won this show the Tony for Best Play.

For some reason, Steven Spielberg is making a live-action movie of this story. WITH REAL HORSES. Why? No, really, WHY??? The stunning horse puppets (and other animals) are the only thing interesting about this. Sure, the movie has Benedict Cumberbatch--so amazing in the National Theatre's Frankenstein and as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes--but in a bit part. I just don't think I love Cumberbatch enough to sit through the movie (and I love him quite a lot). Perhaps Spielberg found a way to make the story ... better? Doubtful.

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