September 20, 2011

Pal Joey

An epic theatrical experience is currently playing at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln center. As the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play, War Horse is based on the children's novel by Michael Morpurgo and has been adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. It is an engaging story about Albert Narracott and his bond with his horse named Joey.

During the outbreak of The Great War (WWI), Albert's father sells his horse, Joey to the cavalry and is later shipped to France. Joey then serves the British Army but later with the tides of the war turning, serves the German Army. He also befriends another army horse named Tophorn and both are taken into an odyssey through enemy lines, cross fires and later No Man's Land (a land between two enemy trenches filled barb wires). Distraught at the loss of Joey, Albert, although still too young, conscripts with the British Army and sets out to find Joey in France.

It's an astounding production that came from the National Theatre of London and directed by Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris. Both won the 2011 Tony for best direction of a play. It is a pretty straight forward war/coming of age story but what makes this production impressive is it's use of horse puppetry (made by the Handspring Puppet Company). Each horse is controlled by three handlers two underneath the horse and one controlling the head and neck. When the play started, I found myself trying to watch how the puppeteers were controlling the horse but after a while they just disappear and one starts to see just the horse, alive onstage. The horse movements are so nuanced (thanks to Toby Sedgwick who developed the "horse choreography") it's uncanny.

The war scenes are incredibly stage on the Beaumont's thrust stage that you feel so involved in the action unfolding in front of you. It feels sweeping and epic. There's this one scene when during the course of the play Tophorn dies and keels over. The puppeteers then slowly crawls backwards in sync into the wings as if the soul of the creature has left it. It gave me goose bumps and it still does as I write this. I know for sure this post won't do it justice so maybe a snippet of the play would give you a feel for it so click on the video above.

Drawing of the horses

The Vivian Beaumont Theatre


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