My pal Joey will steal your heart

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2014

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REVIEW: If you enjoyed Steven Spielberg's 2011 take on Michael Morpurgo's World War I children's novel, then prepare to be blown away by the National Theatre's spellbinding staging.

A show dubbed by The Times as "the theatrical event of the decade", this production combines a compelling, heart-rending narrative with some truly astounding stagecraft.

At the centre of it all are the creations of South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, especially the life-size chestnut horse Joey, who takes three people to operate but whose adventures come alive thanks to their very physical performances.

Effective use of light, animation and sound and understated but emotive folk music ensure the lengthy running time never drags, while also underscoring Morpurgo's overarching theme of "the pity of war".

More streamlined and less schmaltzy then Spielberg's vision, this War Horse has echoes of Blackadder Goes Forth in its character's misplaced jingoism ("we'll sort the Kaiser out and be back in time for tea," boasts a soldier shipping out) but also does a terrific job of showing the futility of it all from all sides.

As well as English - this play is delivered to us in French, German and horse.

Perhaps that's why it has been so universally loved, and on this evidence deservedly so.

NT Live: War Horse (M) 174mins

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