A Parent’s Review: War Horse
War Horse, the latest offering from the Paramount Theatre, tells the moving story of Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who is enlisted to fight for the English in World War I. When Joey the foal first trots onto stage, my daughter and I literally gasp.
All of the horses in the show are life-size puppets, sturdy enough to be ridden by actors and exquisitely expressive enough to make you forget you are watching a puppet. You can literally see the horses breathing.
That said, this is no kiddie puppet show. The Tony Award-winning show is recommended for ages 10 and older for good reason. My own 10-year-old daughter was riveted through the two-hour-and-forty-minute show, but at the end said that she found it “too sad” and that it had “too much dying.”
In the tale, Albert’s father buys Joey for a record price at auction in order to beat out his hated brother. The father promises Albert he can keep Joey if he teaches the horse – half thoroughbred – to plow. No one believes he is up to the task, but Joey proves his mettle and the deal seems sealed. But greed gets the better of the father, who sells Joey to the military. Heartbroken, Albert runs away to France and enlists himself, determined to find Joey.
The play’s second half is quite dark. People and horses are shot and die onstage, including the majestic black steed Topthorn, who becomes Joey’s best companion serving first the British, then the Germans. Albert’s closest war buddy too is shot and killed. There’s loud gunfire, battle scenes, skeleton-like horses literally worked to death pulling war machinery, vultures alighting on the fallen, silhouette images of horses trapped in barbed wire, child war orphans, and some adult language.
As World War I rages on, Joey is caught in enemy crossfire and winds up serving both sides of the war before landing in no man’s land, snagged in the barbed wire lain by the troops. Eventually, both Albert and Joey wind up in the same military hospital, but Albert is temporarily blind from tear gas. Injured and exhausted, Joey is about to be put down when Albert whistles the special whistle he uses for Joey. Joey stumbles over, gives Albert his special snort, and the kindred souls are reunited.
Thankfully, there is a happy ending. Armistice Day arrives and Albert and Joey return, together, to Devon. The show left me in tears.
Though the show has plenty of dark, it’s not relentless. A hissing goose puppet on Albert’s farm provides great comic relief. And there are plenty of jokes between characters, though many seemed to go over my fourth-grade daughter’s head. The show is beautifully staged; the Handspring Puppet Company truly makes the horses come to life. We saw plenty of kids at the show, from my daughter’s age to teens. Older children would probably take the violence in stride, and the show could prompt some interesting discussion about the perils of war.
War Horse is based on the book of the same name by award-winning British author Michael Morpurgo (who also served as Britain’s Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005.) The book also inspired Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated 2011 movie, which was rated PG-13.
Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to park and find your way to the theater; it gets very crowded on neighboring streets as show time approaches. The lot on Seventh Avenue and Pike Street is a good deal with an $8 flat rate for the evening show. Grabbing a booster cushion for kids is always a good idea (at our show they were stacked by the main floor aisle nearest the snack area).
Speaking of snack, if you want one at intermission (there is one 15-minute intermission) do yourself a favor and pre-order (our favorite treat was the Tom Douglas coconut cream pie slice for $7); otherwise you’ll never make it to and from the bathroom in time. They start the show promptly after 15 minutes, regardless of how long the line is for the women’s bathroom (and it’s always long).
If You Go...
Where: Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle.
When: Through Feb. 24. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays 8 p.m.; Saturdays 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Cost: Tickets start at $23.75.
Contact: 877-784-4849; stgpresents.org. The Paramount Theatre box office is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; 206-467-5510.