Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse has become a staple of British theatre over the past decade. It is interested in bravery and different perspectives in the First World War, and no perspective is more unique than that of its narrator: Joey the horse. This concert version of the National Theatre production is stripped back to an orchestra and narrators, accompanied by Rae Smith’s striking illustrations to create a moving, triumphant evening.
Filling the auditorium of the Usher Hall, Adrian Sutton’s original compositions from the theatrical version of War Horse are given the spotlight. The music is fittingly sentimental at times, capturing the warmth of Joey and Albert’s friendship and freedom in the countryside, contrasting with sharp spikes of clattering, dramatic pieces that portray the explosive panic of war. It is an immediately emotional concert, performed with precision and enthusiasm by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. They are conducted by David Charles Abell, whose energy is boundless, particularly when he jumps on his platform at the final accents of a crescendo. Accompanying songs are performed by folk singer Ben Murray and a large student choir which ground the story in melancholic songs of soldiers and labourers.
The performances of Michael Morpurgo and Juliet Stevenson are engaging, telling a condensed version of the book. Morpurgo’s presence is endearing and his voice acting is surprisingly charming. The stories of the film, theatrical production, and the book diverge at certain points, therefore there are moments that may seem out of place or brand new to those who have only seen Hollywood’s version. In this production, at times the script feels too brief, and the core relationship between Albert and Joey seems sidelined in the middle to make way for the whistlestop humanising tour of the allies and axis forces and musing on the senseless violence of war. However, this selective approach to the story does allow for the orchestra to perform its most epic pieces in quick succession, to create a dynamic pace that never feels bloated with useless content.
Entertaining and emotional, War Horse: The Story in Concert marks a commemoration for the centenary of the ending of the First World War, and is a fitting reminder not only of those who gave up their lives for the safety of the country, but the ability for those left behind to remain strong and carry their stories through time.
PHOTOS: Usher Hall
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