Did It Live Up To My Expectations?? – War Horse – New London Theatre – Review


War_horse_new_posterAfter my post last week several theatre chums said before I went to see War Horse ; “I hope it lives up to your expectations and doesn’t disappoint you.”

That’s always the challenge with a long running and hugely successful show. I have to say War Horse didn’t live up to my expectations, it EXCEEDED them. I think it’s the first time a show has surpassed the expectations and hype in my mind.

So how did it manage to do this?

I think it surprised me in so many ways, firstly I wasn’t expecting the musical narration which I loved. It gave the piece a grounding in the period and added a layer of texture to the piece. The music set the emotional tone from joy to poignancy. The score added a cinematic element to the production that really added to the atmosphere. (The Soundtrack CD is now on my wish list, it’s THAT good)

Secondly the puppetry is really something to behold. I had excellent seats very near the stage and I was just in awe of the skill of the puppeteers bringing the animals to life. I also couldn’t believe the size of the horses – they’re huge! The whole spectacle and scale of the show is incredible.

The puppetry is really quite something when done at this size.

The puppetry is really quite something when done at this size.

Thirdly I surprised myself by how emotionally engaged I became with the characters and story. It is a truly horrific period of human history. Yet War Horse manages to get to the essence of the horrors of war and show that those on both sides are suffering. I enjoyed the fact that the French and German characters spoke their respective languages, that aided to the realism and whilst I can’t speak a word of German it was nice to be able to put my GCSE French skills to the test. In many ways it wasn’t what they were saying but how they said it that impacted the audience.

The final battle was also an epic piece of theatre and I don’t use that word lightly. It’s a show that has got its balance right, there isn’t spectacle just for spectacles sake. It is used wisely and to jolt the audience.

It is not hard to see why this has had such a phenomenal success and I hope it continues for many more years to come as it is one of the most impacting pieces of theatre I’ve seen.

I spoke in my previous post about “theatrical alchemy” and how this piece has achieved that via its combination of writing, direction, set, puppetry, music and cast. It is truly a theatrical gold standard to measure other theatre trips against going forward.

I hope as and when you get to see it that your expectations are exceeded just as mine were.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★  (Unmissable)

ps.  I recommend looking at the free documentary and video diaries related to War Horse on iTunes U.


War Horse – A Thoroughbred of Theatre.



In recent years the NT production of War Horse has been wowing audiences throughout the world. It’s been on my “must see” list for the last few years but I’ve never got round to seeing it (that is being rectified tonight!).

I’ve found it an interesting production to watch as it has blossomed, becoming a resident show in London’s West End and then seeing it become a global export and sensation. In many ways it vindicates the public funding the NT receives as it has brought in much more than ever it took of public funding and must have repaid that back in tax tenfold (if not more) by now.

I’m pleased that it has also been able to be taken overseas. I’ve said numerous times on this blog how I hold the NT in high esteem and I’m glad its theatrical magic is being seen by those unable to make it to the Southbank in London.

A recent social media Q&A with author Michael Morpurgo also showed how this production is engaging with its audience. I was especially intrigued that the author has made cameo appearances in the play in the West End, Broadway, Canada, Australia and Salford! The life this production has outside of its stage confines is impressive. Whether it is engaging the writer via social media or Joey the horse appearing at national events, this show pops up all over the place, not in a tacky marketing way but as something people identify and engage with.


The way the production has touched people across the spectrum of age and nationality again shows the power that theatre can have when all the pieces of writing, direction, cast and staging come together causing alchemy to occur. It happens only rarely and the NT is perhaps one of the best theatrical crucibles we have that achieves it regularly.

I know that many of my regular readers will be glad I am finally going to see the show (especially my antipodean friend Simon Parris!) . The review will follow soon. I’m excited to get to see this theatrical thoroughbred and I salute the success it has been and continues to be for British Theatre in the world today.

Five Fave Featres

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A few critics/bloggers have been writing about their favourite theatres and so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and list mine. I’ll limit myself to 5 though.

This is an extremely subjective list, based not just on the building but the memories of productions I’ve seen in them too.

In at number one without a shadow of a doubt is The Royal Opera House Covent Garden. My first visit there was last year. It is such a magnificent building that has all the grandeur and impressiveness you expect.

Impressive outside

Resplendent inside too

It just oozes atmosphere and spectacle. I love the way the lights are beamed out of the central rose in the ceiling which closes up when the production is not on. I’ve seen several amazing productions here, most memorable were Manon and La Traviataboth last year. The Royal Opera House Orchestra are the best in the world in my opinion and so any visit to hear them play is worth it. I recommend everyone goes the ROH at least once, it’s a whole experience. I love it.

2) The National Theatre

I know it was described as looking like a nuclear power station by Prince Charles. What goes on inside this venue though is what counts.

The beauty lies underneath

I first visited this theatre back when I was in junior school, on a school trip to see Sylvester McCoy as the title role in The Pied Piper. Since then I’ve been back many times, seeing Wind in the Willows in the 90’s, I saw Every Good Boy Deserves Favour a few years ago and that re-ignited my regular attendance there. Other recent memorable visits include, London Road  and The Cherry Orchard.

One of the best things about The National Theatre is its food and drink options, I especially love the Terrace Bar. It also houses my favourite bookshop of all time. If you have an interest in theatre make the effort to visit their bookshop, I can often be found perusing its shelves.

3) The Miller Centre Theatre – Caterham

Know this place like the back of my hand.

Again not the prettiest from the outside but inside it’s a gem of a theatre. For an amateur theatre it is kitted out better than some professional theatres. I know I’m biased as I’m part of the production committee. This theatre is special to me. I’ve learnt much by being involved in its running and was there just this morning picking up some scripts for our 2013/14 season. I’ve met some wonderful people here, many who I count as close and special friends. I’ve also witnessed some extremely funny things happen here, both onstage and backstage – but best to keep those to myself 🙂

4) Theatre Royal Bath

There are many reasons to visit Bath, but the Theatre Royal is one reason I repeatedly go back there.

This theatre and its studio theatre The Ustinov and children’s theatre The Egg I went to regularly when I lived in the area. It puts on a varied and diverse range of theatre. I owe a large amount to this theatre as I developed my passion and appreciation of theatre seeing productions here. I especially liked being able to see plays preview here before going to the West End at half the West End ticket price! Hedda Gabler was the last production I saw in the main house. I must book a trip down to Bath soon!

5) The Abbey Theatre – Dublin

I was fortunate enough to visit Dublin last year and this theatre was a highlight of my time there seeing Translations. A vibrant, modern theatre that was buzzing the night I visited. Again I look forward to when I can next see something there.

Great City, Great Theatre

So that’s my top five, plenty almost made it into it, and perhaps if I do the list in a few years time, they’ll make their way into the top five. For now though that’s it.

It’s All Happening at The National Theatre

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The Wonderful National Theatre


The National Theatre seems to be a buzz with all sorts of goings on at the moment. As you’ll see from previous posts I’ve been to many of it’s productions this year and have enjoyed them all. It’s also been great to sit outside this summer in their deck chairs or  if you’re lucky their funky giant green furniture;

Great Green Front Room

I was pleased to see that The National has had a 45% rise in attendance at productions for 2009/2010. The success of War Horse is a major contributer to this, but the Sunday performances have also been a significant success. In fact two of the productions I’ve been to this year have been Sunday matinees. As to me it’s a really convenient time to go to the theatre. The Stage reports that “NT-produced shows in the capital achieved audiences of 1.2 million – or 90% capacity. As a result the report states, the National accounted for a third of all play-going across London theatre as a whole.” This is a phenomenal acheivement and I congratulate all those involved, it’s great that we have such a beacon of theatrical excellence/innovation and success as The NT.

I also read this week that the NT is in the early stages of discussions with other London theatres about sharing it’s services, in the tough economic climate, especially as the dreaded spending revue is going to occur shortly, I think that it is wonderful that London theatres are being proactive and looking at ways of working together to ensure that this important part of the British (and especially the London) economy can continue to do it’s important work. It’s encouraging that the NT realises its responsiblity to other smaller venues in London and I hope this will help them in the tought times that are ahead. More so I hope that it leads to artistic growth and co-operation.

As you can no doubt realise, I’m a great supporter of the NT, I think it’s vital that we have a National theatre, and that it sets a standard for excellence and innovation. So I’m even more excited that it’s going to have a £70 million refurbishment between now and 2014. It’s going to be totally overhauled both internally/externally and backstage. The fundraising for this is going to begin in earnest now and I trust they meet their targets despite the financial climate and I encourage any of you to contribute as and how you can.

I’m next going to the NT in November to see a couple of their “Platforms”, one with William Gaskill (he’s being joined by Max Stafford-Clark too) looking at bringing the text to life. The other is entitled  “Can we talk about this?” and is being led by DV8 and is about freedom of speech / offence.  You know where to come to read a review about them!

Domini Public – National Theatre, Square2,Friday 23rd July 2010 – Review

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It’s with great pleasure I have my first guest writer for the Theatre Thoughts Blog – Whoohay!!

Kevin and I met via our course at Rose Bruford College and have shared many a conversation and laugh about theatrical things. (especially on whether Ibsen was an Aquarius 😉 – ask us when you see us)

Without further ado here is Kevin’s review of Domini Public:

Were you born in London, were you born abroad… simple questions, not hard to answer and not that moral, but how would you react to being honest about how much you earn, whether you thought you were clever than the average person, if you were creative? How about the really personal stuff, the embarrassing information, the things that would influence how others see you? Would you lie?

Spanish theatre maker Roger Bernat brought his latest and most ambitious production to the space outside the National Theatre where those that bought tickets were both audience and performer. On arriving at the venue, you were given in exchange for some form of id, a pair of wireless earphones (the sort you may have at a silent disco), the play begins and you are guided through the space. Two signs orientate you on says ‘left’ the other ‘right’.

You are asked a series of question; if you were born in London go left, if you were born abroad go right, if you were born in England but outside London stand in the middle, if you know your teams hymn raise your fist, if you ever fell in love with someone you wouldn’t have expected to hold you hand on your heart. You buy into the concept, as an audience member, you want the production to succeed, you want it to be good, so you feel you have to comply with the instructions. If you lie, you may ruin the production.

So, then the questions start to get more personal and works on your petty prejudices; If you have ever been suspicious of an Arab looking man move left, If you feel looking good can help social cohesion raise your hand, if you own property that you rent out move right. Slowly you see factions starting to appear, who are the people that earn the most? Who are the people that are concerned about how they look? Who are religious? Who have children? Then the performance begins.

By seemingly arbitrary questions the group are divided into groups of characters and provided with props and costume and through instructions in the headphones the story of abuse, freedom, capture, hope, despair, rape and genocide is played out. The impact of this play is in its questioning of the conventions of theatre making. We are not actors, but when we raise a gun to someone’s head we are acting. As observers of the action, we are audience, but at a certain part of the play we are asked to look away and by ‘not observing’ we read a new even stronger meaning into what we are not seeing.

Is this theatre? Yes, definitely. Is this a psychology exercise? Yes, probably. Did this fit in my ‘I go to see theatre and hope that I am a different person when I come out to the person that went in’? Absolutely!

Women Beware Women – Review


Thomas Middleton is a name I’ve heard of and knew about in the context that he’s a contemporary (some scholars say collaborator too) of Shakespeare, yet I’ve never seen one of his plays, until yesterday.

Women Beware Women is regarded  as one of Middleton’s best works and it’s currently on at The National Theatre.

The first thing that strikes you is the stylish set that fills the Olivier Theatre stage. Director Marianne Elliot has chosen to set this in an art deco style and this helps to make the play seem more modern while allowing it to have the style and glamour of a bygone era. Lez Brotherston is to be congratulated on this fabulous set and costuming.

The play is 3 hours in length and  have to say I found the first half did drag. As to be expected Middleton introduces us to the characters, twists and plots in this first half, there were some great witty moments and as the plot thickens we get to see the webs that are being weaved.  The highlight is the scene that involves a chess game being played between Leantio’s mother and Livia as the game is being played another “game” is being done in Livia’s house, it is this scene that is quite famous and I was pleased to see it done so well. I recommend reading; http://streathambrixtonchess.blogspot.com/2006/10/chess-in-art-postscript-game-at-chesse.html for some more info on this scene.

The second half goes with much more punch and panache and was thrilling.

leton has been dubbed “the Tudor Tarrantino”, and I can see why as the murders come thick and fast. The webs that are woven trap all and sundry and usually ensnare the wrong people with tragic consequences. The final masked ball scene was gripping as the stage revolves around repeatedly the cast run/leap/sneak around and it’s one of the most memorable scenes I’ve scene in theatre.

The cast performed superbly and brought the wit, darkness, tragedy of this play to life (and death) before our eyes.

The gallery band were a subtle and suitable addition to the play and added the right mood as appropriate with their jazz music.

What struck me more was how contemporary this play felt, the issues of greed, lust, manipulation, power are issues that are still prevalent in our society. The programme contains a  wonderful essay by Linda Davies that really links this play with the 21st centuries god of materialism. As a former investment banker she hauntingly tells us;

“Nothing’s changed.

The stage just got bigger.”

Middleton is an accomplished wordsmith and has many memorable lines in this play, one of my favourite sums up the play (and perhaps the human condition) ;

“Sin tastes, at the first draught, like wormwood water

But, drunk again,

’tis nectar ever after.”