Review: War Horse @Sunderland Empire

The bond between a human being and an animal is special and in hard times there are moments in your life when you just need that special friend to help you get through it.

And that is shown in the National Theatre acclaimed play War Horse.   Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, we see Albert Narracott and his beloved horse Joey go through quite a journey together.

World War One has just started and Joey is sold and shipped to France to help win the war. Joey gets pushed and shoved on both sides till he finds himself in no man’s land. Poor Albert is wondering where his horse is and what has happened to him, though he is not old enough to enlist he puts his best foot forward and goes on a mission to bring Joey back home to Devon.

Fear no more readers as no real horses are used in the play, the beautiful animals are created and move around the stage by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. The puppeteers make the puppets look realistic that I forget that they are exactly that.

I enjoy the use of the puppets and the props, such as using fishing rods with birds on top to look like they are flying and swooping in the air. And the way the characters use pieces of wood to create Joey’s stable that turn into guns for the soldiers.  And the transitions between the use of puppets and props are seamless.

War Horse at the New London Theatre Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg 852-000

The piece is powerful to watch, to see the determination and courage on Albert’s face, he truly believes he will find his Joey.

I adore the way War Horse focuses on the love, care and attention of the animals, note that it does not shy away on how the animals were treated in World War One. We are able to see how human beings think of animals as one.

Take Friedrich Muller, he despises the war as it has changed the man he used to be. Though his German comrades don’t agree, he is still fond of these horses as he takes after them as if they were his own children.

There is a strong sense of community spirit, watching the people of Devon come together in hope that all of their men (and animals) will return home. Especially in the scenes of the villagers singing folk songs or as the song person sings throughout the story, it adds an extra layer of raw emotion that reminds us how the families back at home were affected by war.

War Horse is a stunning piece of theatre that tugs on this reviewers heartstrings and reminds us how important our animals are.

War Horse is on till 23 February.

Tickets are available in person at the Box Office on High Street West in Sunderland, from the Ticket Centre or on 0844 871 3022 or online at

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