A horse named Joey snorts, prances, rears up and swishes his tail on stage, captivating Denver audiences who can’t believe he is a puppet in the Tony award-winning play War Horse that opened January 8 at the Buell Theatre. With creative use of lighting and minimal staging, the life-size horse puppets (11 in all) become living, breathing creatures that carry soldiers into the battlefields of World War I.
Not since Lion King have we seen such stage wizardry.
While the story of the farm boy, Albert, and his beloved horse who gets sold to the British army to perform cruel tasks is gut-wrenching, it’s the phenomenal puppetry of the South African-based Handspring Puppet Company that makes this play remarkable.
Three handlers control the horse’s movements: one controls his ears and head from the outside; the other two are inside the body, controlling breathing and movement of the tail and legs. Its body is mostly cane, soaked, bent and then stained. An aluminum frame lined with leather makes up the spine and allows men to ride on its back. Its skin under the frame is a hosiery-like fabric. Joey is about eight feet tall with 20 major joints, allowing his legs to bend.
Joey breathes, whinnies, and snorts; he eats oats and drinks from a bucket. His leather ears are expressive and his black eyes show fear as he goes into battle.
You will find yourself mesmerized by this powerful production and its amazing artistry and the riveting, emotional story of Joey, the horse who went to war, and how he is reunited with his young master. It brings to light the atrocities to which horses were exposed during World War I.
Colorado natives Angela Reed and Matt Hostetler play Rose, Albert’s mother, and veterinary officer Martin respectively.
War Horse plays the Buell Theatre through Jan. 20, Tuesday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday and 1/17 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org.