Adapted by Nick Stafford
Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, 127p
Last Thursday, I went with 100 year seven students to see War Horse in London. It was chaos, but that is another story - this blog is for reviews; and on my return from the theatre, I read the play.
I have already reviewed the Michael Morpurgo original here, so will not repeat the story - anyway, it is pretty well known by now. However, it was very interesting to read the play just after seeing it performed, as it shed light on some of the concepts for the creation of the story on the stage.
The play differs slightly from the novel - mainly in terms of the fact that the story is not told from the point of view of Joey, but from an omniscient perspective where multiple characters' stories are told. Nevertheless, Joeys feelings are expressed through his actions. For example, his early fear of people is shown through Joey's unwillingness to approach Arthur and through Arthur's one-sided conversations with the horse. In scenes where the animals are without humans, the action is described through stage directions, specifically designed to give the horses a emotive and quasi-human quality.
On stage, Joey's character is performed by three expert puppeteers, who manipulate the movements of the animal to the point where you forget it isn't real. The story is full of drama and action, with much of it taking place on battlefields. Joey becomes a symbol for all that was fought for during World War One, when parents were separated from their children, lovers were separated from their sweethearts. Arthur's search for his horse becomes a symbol for humanity and love, and Joey brings all sorts of people together - Germans, French and British.
The play is beautifully written, with incredibly evocative language. There was also brilliant use of other dialects (with translations) where the French and German characters were in scene. In particular, I love the monologues where Arthur talks to his horse, making promises to be together forever - this friendship is at the heart of the story and is what stays with most people long after they have finished reading.