War Horse well worth the wait

I had wanted to see War Horse since I first heard that it was being shown in the West End in 2009. It seemed like there were so many performances of it at the time that I never got round to seeing it as I thought that I could go and see it anytime.  Then in 2010 after I became deafened, I didn’t think that I would ever get to see it. I thought there would be no point going to see it as I wouldn’t be able to follow the story and it would no longer be accessible to me.

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I hadn’t really thought it about it again until I recently saw that there was to be a live captioned performance of it at the National Theatre by STAGETEXT, one of the few captioned performances there would be and I had to see it. I thought that finally, I would be able to see this play and enjoy it. I was very excited about this so when I tried to book tickets online via the National Theatre’s website, I was really disappointed to see that it was completely sold out apart from two seats available to the extreme left of the stalls, where I wouldn’t be able to see the captioning units.

Because I was so disappointed, I asked my wife to call the Box Office to double-check that there weren’t any other seats still available where we would be able to see the captioning. She spoke to the Box Office and they were very helpful. They told her that there was an NT access list for people like myself who may be deaf or hard of hearing, and that if I joined it, I would be able to buy tickets in the captioned area (which is in the stalls with excellent views of the captioning units) at reduced disabled rates. We filled in the form for the access list and waited to hear back from them.

A few days later, I was delighted to receive an email telling me that they had reserved me two tickets in the captioned area at the reduced rate, and they asked me to contact them to confirm and book the tickets. My wife called them back and booked the tickets over the phone. We were delighted. I’m lucky that my wife is hearing and that she can use the phone for me, otherwise it would be a lot harder to book the tickets as I don’t have a text phone and am heavily dependent on SMS messages and e-mails.

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We went to see the matinee performance this Saturday. When we arrived, we were really pleased to see that our seats were brilliant. They were in the stalls with an excellent view of the stage and both captioning units on either side of the stage. We noticed, however, that there were quite a few empty seats immediately beside us and in the row behind us. I thought that this was a shame because every other seat in the theatre was completely full, so I wondered if some people aren’t aware of the access list. To be honest, it is wonderful that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have the opportunity to see really brilliant plays in the capital like this at reduced rates via the access list, and I would recommend that more people get out and take advantage of this great opportunity to see really accessible plays.

It was truly amazing. The puppetry of the horses was absolutely incredible. It was so life-like and realistic. The story was really emotional. It was adapted from the original book by Michael Morpurgo, who was inspired by ‘a tarnished old oil painting of some unknown horse by a competent but anonymous artist’. The author had wanted to portray the horror and human tragedy of World War 1 through the eyes of a horse, as apart from the estimated 10 million people who had lost their lives in the War, there were also thousands of horses sent fighting in the Cavalry, who also lost their lives, but unlike their owners, they had no idea what was happening to them, and most of them were killed.

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The story is about the relationship between a boy, Albert Narracott, and his horse Joey, who he grows up with, becomes deeply attached to and trains. Then when the war starts in 1914, Albert’s father Ted sells Joey to the war and they become separated. Albert is heartbroken and runs away to France to find Joey.

During this time, Joey ends up being caught by the Germans and used by them to pull an ambulance cart and transport injured soldiers to hospital. There are many powerful scenes of Joey and other horses being used in battle and of the devastating impact of war and the tragic suffering and loss of thousands of human lives in the trenches at this time.

The horse puppets of Joey and Topthorn, the other puppet who works alongside Joey on the battlefields of France, are not only life-size but also incredibly realistic. Their bodies have skeletal bamboo frames and they are each operated by three people, who manage to show their emotions really well to make them believable. You can see them breathing and moving just like a real horse. For instance, their emotions are expressed through their ears twitching, their tails swishing and even their skin breathing. When they gallop and trot across the stage, you can almost believe that they are real as they are so expressive. This is because they have been painstakingly designed by the Handspring Puppet Company to seem as realistic and flexible as possible.

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The sets have also been very cleverly designed to capture the mood of the First World War and the visual imagery in the background of the stage was very creative and stimulating. It was inspired by artists from the First World War period, and it involved lots of drawings and images to illustrate the ideas of the story, from the rural Devon landscape at the beginning to the bloody battlefields of France.

I thought this play was absolutely incredible. Definitely one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time. The story was captivating and very emotional, the puppetry so realistic and life-like, and the live captioning by STAGETEXT was perfect. I’m so pleased I went to see it after all this time. It was well worth the wait. If you haven’t seen it yet, go and see it!

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/access/national-theatre-access-list

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