There's been a good game going on in West Devon recently called 'Spot the Spielberg' because our bit of Dartmoor is one of the preferred locations for the filming of War Horse and Stephen is on our Manor, so we are taking it all very seriously.
Radio Devon ran a little phone in slot for Spielberg sightings and of course as the maestro has been staying at that nice hotel up the lane (thanks for the intelligence Jim the Postie) we'd probably have had plenty of sightings to report had we been looking. The Gamekeeper did return from the local pub with news that Stephen was in there enjoying the smelly-welly-dung-spit-and-sawdust ambience, but the GK and his ilk are very hard to impress so they all pretended not to notice, as you do.
Why is that?
Do you see someone famous and then work very hard not to notice?
I was standing right next to Angela Rippon at the counter in Boots a while back, it was her voice that gave it away of course and then I tried my utmost to be nonchalent as she bought her hairspray and I stocked up on shampoo.
If ever we go to the theatre we tend to sit up in the dress circle, foregoing the stalls as a bit too expensive and anyway you're too near and can't see everything. So when I was debating my War Horse visit with Will Rycroft, who is currently playing Major Stewart in the production, and Will very kindly offered to book my ticket for me, I sent off my cheque and guessed he'd know where the best seat might be.
Too right, Row D Seat 3 people.
Not so near the front that you are kissing the stage, but near enough to feel completely involved in the action and the exact spot where some of the most dramatic of that action takes place. I'll own up that my heart sank when a row of children filed into Row C because The Woman in Black experience remains a traumatic memory, but I should have known better than to fret because these were American children. Impeccably well-behaved (I know, I'm sure UK children can be too, just not at the Plymouth production of The Woman in Black) to the point where I didn't even notice them, and nicely short so I could see over their heads.
I suspect the story of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse is well-known, and my thanks again to Curzon who sent me both the book and the play after she had seen it a few years ago. Set in Devon on the eve of the Great War, Farmer Narracott heading to the auction three sheets to the wind blows the mortgage money on a foal which his son Albert takes on and trains up. Joey is a bit of a mix, mostly a hunter but under pressure from his father Albert teaches Joey to plough. When the war breaks out and horses are required for the Front, Albert's father sells Joey to the army and off he goes to war. Inevitably distraught at the loss of his best mate it's clear Albert, though only sixteen, will follow.
So how on earth can all that be conveyed on stage?
If you've seen it you will know how magical this is, if you haven't this trailer will give you a clue and there are also some fascinating video diaries made by the cast all available on youtube..
It's all in the ears and the breathing; as the horse's torso rises and falls it gives a clear indication of mood and I could feel my eyes welling up as soon as I caught sight of the gangly foal, let alone the fully grown Joey in battle. I was near enough to the action to catch all the delicate nuances of equine expression, the tilt of the head, the arching of the neck, the swish of the tail and the twitch of the ears, the pulling back when cautious and uncertain, the ranging forward when fearless and all so cleverly done by the puppeteers. The notion that they are puppets is quickly forgotten, the puppeteers blending seamlessly with the horses and making all the horsey noises too through what must be a physically draining performance and surrounded by a great cast of actors.
So I'm completely immersed and only just stopped myself shouting out (in true Plymouth style) at a few key moments and I won't reveal the context but there is a moment when I wanted to shout
'Put it on Joey, he'll know what to do...'
and I'm crying at puppets and I wasn't the only one with tears streaming down my face by the end either... yes I saw you man sitting next to me, but an incredible theatre experience that I can't recommend highly enough. Bookhound wasn't with me on this trip but we will definitely be going again when he is. Nor can I quite see how this is going to translate into a film though I feel sure Stephen's got that sorted, but it was good to meet up with Will Rycroft aka Major Stewart afterwards and to complement him on that clever leap onto the horse with nicely co-ordinated draw of the sword and battle charge which seemed to be heading right for D3, so my thanks to him for nabbing me that brilliant seat.
I'm not sure whether Devon has made the trek up to London to see this but I really do hope if this production goes on tour that it at least comes down to Plymouth before it heads off to New York and everywhere else. We're pretty good at horse etiquette down here, slowing down when we see riders ahead of us in the car, proceeding with caution down the lane in case there's a horse around the bend etc, so we can only hope that translates to the theatre and the horses won't be spooked by any screaming .