Thursday, January 19, 2012

War Horse...and Upside Down Spurs

We're here! Complete touristy move. But I couldn't help myself. Shameful since I lived in NYC for nearly a decade.

You may have read that Matt's gift to me this Christmas was a chance to see War Horse at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. I was excited, yet apprehensive; I knew it was an emotional tale of World War I through a horse's eyes, but would I be able to handle the good, and not so good, things that happened to these animals?

The harsh reality is, millions of horses died in this war - new inventions called machine guns and the recently discovered barbed wire mostly to blame, among the suspected exhaustion, dehydration and infections, which plagued many of the soldiers as well.

What is also evident is the connection that many of the cavalry officers had with their mounts, who carried them fearlessly into the unknown. This wasn't just displayed in the play, but it was also discovered in letters and photos of the war.
Members of the British Cavalry, on a good day. Note the horse to the right has decided it would be fun to start playing bridle tag - even in war time, they still had playfulness in them!

So Joey, who happens to be a Thoroughbred/ Draft cross, is raised and trained by a young man called Albert. Sadly, Joey gets sent off to war, and fights for the British, and then ends up in German hands, and on French land. Throughout his journey, Joey is lucky enough to end up with soldiers who care for him and in turn for his bravery and intelligence, he's treated with kindness.
The making of Joey - in the lobby at Lincoln Center.

He also befriends another horse named Topthorn, a majestic black creature who reminds me a lot of Zeus - rather full of himself but ultimately a good boy.
Topthorn the puppet's head. Their eyes were marvelous and there was even room in there for a mullen mouth bit.

The acting was excellent, but what blew me away was the puppetry of these horses. Each horse had three actors piloting it - one for the front legs, one for the back, and an actor at the head and neck. The actors dissolved into the horse puppet, making you forget they were there.

The nuances - a flick of the ear, a swish of the tail - made these wooden and steel creatures as lifelike as possible. Even the rise and fall of the ribcage to emulate breathing was captivating.

I didn't find myself bawling at the expected scenes....instead, I found myself choking up when Joey came out for the first time as a full-grown horse - he just engulfed the audience. Then, early in the war he and Topthorn had to jump some perilous barbed wire. As the semicircular stage rotated, the horses began their leap of faith over the barbed wire, looking as though they were going to fly into the audience. It was such a reminder to me that horses, if they trust you, will risk their lives for you.

At the end of the evening, we made the 90 minute trek home and began night check on our own war horses. They each got extra carrots and pats.

If you have a few minutes, I urge you to read this photo below. It's a letter written from a father to a soldier about to embark on his Cavalry journey. It warms the heart to know that even in tragic times, men cared for their horses to the best of their ability.
"Never sit in the saddle when you are not wanted there, always dismount. And if you come to a very stiff climb always get off and lead your horse if you can...You will be surprised what these little considerations do for a horse."


PS - Someone needs to tell the British Cavalry at Lincoln Center that their spurs were all upside down. Oopsy!

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