Review: War Horse

Expectations can have a lot to do with how you receive a given play. War Horse has been praised to the skies, and the videos I’d seen of the life-size horse puppets designed by gay South African puppeteers Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones were indeed captivating. The show I actually saw at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, however, was not as thoroughly compelling as I had been led to believe.

War Horse takes place before and during World War I, when Joey, young Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. Albert (played by the adorable Seth Numrich) then embarks on a mission to find him and bring him home.

That’s the heart of the plot right there, but it takes somewhere around an hour into the play for any of that to start happening. And therein lies the main reason I didn’t connect more deeply with War Horse: both in in its plotting and its staging, it moves at too slow a pace.

For example, there are early episodes that find Albert bonding with Joey – and the play definitely needs some of that – but there is just too much of it, in too much detail. War Horse was originally a novel, and that kind of leisurely pacing is completely acceptable there, but it can really try one’s patience in the theatre.

That said, pacing to one side, War Horse is actually largely well constructed. The tear-jerking emotional payoffs at show’s end are very well set up and totally earned. And the horse puppetry is truly moving and astonishing. If this had just been more tightly engineered, I might have needed three hankies instead of just one at the end of this long evening.

For tickets, click here.

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