Without the spectacle of puppetry and the horrors of war, this “War Horse” would be pretty lame.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, this tale of a boy and his horse is rife with emotion-tinkering schmaltz that’ll either make you cry or feel like there’s something wrong with you because you don’t. People drop like flies in this World War I story, but the minute a horse gets maimed the audience’s audible gasps of horror fill the air.
Part of the problem is it’s a children’s story. The characters lack depth so it’s hard for the actors to create emotional connections. There’s also the silly, implausible plotline that feels longer than the two-and-a-half hours it takes to reach its predictable conclusion.
Thankfully, the real stars of “War Horse” are the war and the horses, neither of which disappoint. Using little more than basic line sketches projected onto a bare stage; cleverly employed sound and lights; and an occasional prop, this production spectacularly depicts the ravaging effects of war on mankind. The multitude of gunfire, glaring lights and dropping bodies create a horrific, disturbing wartime backdrop. The simplicity with which it happens, however, is an interesting irony and keen observation on how fighting has changed over time.
Even war plays second fiddle to the visually stunning puppets who prove why you should never share a stage with animals. Operated by puppeteers, the full size horses gallop, whinny and work the crowd like old pros. It’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off them.
When young Albert’s horse is sold to the English to aid in fighting the war, the young man deceitfully enlists in the military in order to find him.
Through Oct. 21
Boston Opera House
539 Washington St., Boston