Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Inspired by War Horse

The only satisfaction I can have after sobbing my way through the book, is to take the kids to see War Horse at the New London Theatre.

Truly, I want them to be bowled over by this experience and have it become their meaning of life. I want that not because I want to fry kid brains with bloodgutshorror, barbedwire, deadbodies and war.

No. There is plenty of time for me to do that to you, little grits. When you are older, come with me to make the pilgrimage to Mauthausen. Like me, you probably won't speak much about it afterwards, but to look at that place will make your soul armour deeper and stronger. Being there, walking there, you'll know, if mama ever allowed you to forget, that in your adult lives you will be as responsible for peace making as for warmongering - and you will be offered both opportunities. I want you to know where those paths lead. Choose wisely.

But like I say, it is not world war which drives me here today. I want Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to know how it is possible to make words live from a page in many rich expressions. I want them to see it here, because London Theatre is one of the most wonderful, ambitious, and inspiring human creations. I tell them it was even better before Andrew Lloyd Webber came along and made us all singalong to the French Revolution while waving flags and wearing baseball caps.

And War Horse, with the giant puppetry of Handspring and the sparse acting - showing to us types of people caught up in events greater than themselves - all puts us back where we should be, in those pre-singalong days, with drama and passion and humanity played out in front of us. And Grit kicking herself on the way out of a theatre again because she put on the mascara, so will exit looking like a panda.

The stage is minimal: black with a white gash, like a part page, ripped from a notebook, tearing across the backcloth. Onto this rough-edged gash throughout the play is projected hand drawn animations of key events. It becomes an important, immediate means by which we move location from Devon to France and then back and forth over No Man's Land.

Sitting there, with perfect seats, I can take some time to talk to Squirrel, Tiger and Shark, about how the stage looks. How nothing is a mistake: the designers, craftspeople and artists made it right. Although there is little visually, it is rich: every idea we bounce into it works. Here is a world raw, bleak, bare, stripped down, fearful, and yet we have that white tear across the back. Tiger says she thinks we're deep in a cave, but we can see light, so there's hope we get out alive.

And then it starts, and the horses appear. Against this stage, they fit perfectly. Strong, skeletal, tender, filled with life. The puppet horses - ohmygod does that word demean these engineered creations - are fantastic. I swear the bamboo breathes. These horses start and twitch; their muscles jump and their ears flicker. Their tails switch, they take perfect steps back and forth, beautifully in time. They rear, they gallop, they kick, and the puppeteers, visible all the while, must really be some strange inhabitants of horse - all horses have them, but before this, I never noticed.

There are times I glance over to Tiger and her eyes are wide; wider and she can consume the picture whole. I know when her breath stops, her brain's ticking away. She's looking at the construction of those legs, the turn of that belly, the mechanics of the ears, and I know exactly what she's thinking.

When it's over, and the horse and boy reunited, the war ended, the souls departed, and the woman next to me smothered in tissues, Tiger says that was the best play she has ever seen. And I say No. Absolutely not. We cannot make a giant horse. Not in the bathroom. Think about it. You would never get it out. Let's try making one in the yard instead.


alison said...

We saw it at the National. Quite amazing.

Firebird said...

Looking forward to seeing photos of your horse!

sharon said...

And you really think a giant horse is not going to materialise somewhere inside your house ;-)

Anonymous said...

Isn't it the most amazing spectacle? For anyone who knows horses it is just incredible how they've managed to capture a living breathing beautiful animal in a wooden puppet.

Was there much galloping on the way home?