War Horse – Liverpool Empire

I find it hard to write reviews as everyone’s experience is individual. However, I just wanted to share with you all what I thought of The National Theatre’s production of the 10th Anniversary UK tour of War Horse.

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I booked our tickets some two years ago after reading the book by Michael Morpurgo and watching the acclaimed Steven Spielberg film. I found the book largely more emotive than the film. Though come the day of the stage production I had somehow forgotten the plot of both book and film! I recalled battles of World War One and the part horses took in the human struggle.

Our visit to the Liverpool Empire Theatre, was not without hiccup. I thought a good 40 minutes would be enough to get us through the busy streets of Liverpool and to parking at St. John’s shopping centre. Unfortunately I had not accounted for the popularity of the Christmas market and Saturday afternoon shoppers! By 2.15pm we were stuck in traffic by Lime Street Station. The matinee performance started at 2.30pm! I began to slowly panic!

‘If there’s no parking spaces here, we’ll have to go to Liverpool One.’

‘But that’s miles away!’ I said. ‘We’ll be late.’

‘You go ahead then. I’ll catch up with you once I’ve parked the car!’

‘But you’ll miss the beginning of the show!’

‘You’ve waited two years for this,’ David reasoned. ‘It’s better if you go; at least one of us will see the start. They may not let us in until the interval if we are both late!’ I sat with a heavy heart, as rain showered down upon the window screen.

‘You don’t mind?’ I asked. ‘I’d rather both of us see the show.’

‘You go ahead.’ David was rational but my heart lingered until I handed him his ticket and kissed him good luck. The cold wind buffeted me as I stumbled through a thickening crowd. My feet splashed through puddles. I noticed the traffic in Lime Street was at a stand still, car horns blaring (as if that would help!) The stench of roasted meat from the Christmas market on St Georges Plateau was heavy on the air and made me balk. As the clock ticked I worried for David. In my rush I turned an ankle, and cried out into the cold, grey afternoon. I made my hurried way towards the theatre where I showed my ticket and then in bewilderment looked for my seat.

The Empire Theatre is a bit of a maze, with automatic doors and signs that are not very helpful. I thankfully managed to find my seat before the show started and sat hoping David would be following soon after. The lights dimmed and a young horse puppet (Joey) pranced around the stage. I couldn’t settle. Every-time I saw someone enter the shaded theatre I thought maybe it was David. However some 15 minutes into the show, after the auction scene, I saw David walk past. We laughed afterwards that he could have entered the auditorium shouting ‘Christine, where are you?’ but in reality I wondered how to catch his attention while he found a seat at the front. We sat the first half of the show separately.

For War Horse itself, the show was amazing. I thought it much better than the Lion King a few years ago. Perhaps having no assumptions of the show helped? The puppetry was superb, the story emotive and the stage production highly visual. The acting from the company was top notch and though there were no tears there was a lump in my throat at the end.

What makes War Horse a successful stage production is the multi disciplinary team behind it. From stage design to lighting effects. The score by Adrian Sutton though subtle was effective to promote emotion. John Tams’ folk songs bring the essence of rural Devon to life, (though I wasn’t too enamored with the songs within the play.) I loved the artwork by Rae Smith evoking powerful symbols of World War One. The lighting by Paule Constable was breathtaking! A scene that stood out for me was when when Albert and co. ran in slow motion towards the enemy. From the mist they emerged to run into the bullets and the shells. When the men fell one by one, it was painful to watch. It felt realistic.

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Talking about realism the puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company was outstanding. You connect instantly with Joey. Albert’s reaction to Joey is a reflection of our own. There are other puppets within the show, from swallows flying in the peaceful Devonshire sky to a cheeky goose who received a lot of laughter for his aggressive antics. But the horses is what many have come to see. The scenes of war are the most vivid and stay with you long after the show. I cried in dismay when Joey was caught among the barbed wire in No-Mans-Land. You forget that they are just puppets.

The play has the human condition at the very core. From the dogged determination of  Albert, to the sadness that drives Arthur Narracott and the despair of Friedrich Müller. Joey and Topthorn suffer in a man made situation.

If you have the opportunity to go see War Horse, then I would highly recommend it. As a spectacle it is a feast for the eyes! Don’t forget to take your handkerchief!

Have you seen the show? Read the book or seen the film? What were your impressions?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

*Pictures taken from various productions of War Horse.

#PoppiesTour – Liverpool

I have previously written about the 14-18 NOW Wave and Weeping Window poppy tour. You can read my post on my joy at seeing the Wave at Yorkshire Sculpture Parkhere. Both sculptures were designed by Paul Cummins (artist) and Tom Piper (designer).

The Wave

The Wave at YSP

In November, just in time for the city’s Armistice commemorations, the poppies, first seen as part of the breathtaking Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, at the Tower of London in 2014, finally came to Liverpool. The Weeping Window at present graces the St George’s Plateau side of the Neo-Classical Grade 1 listed building. I must admit while the sculpture was being constructed I was not overtly taken by the design. After seeing pictures of the poppies at Woodhorn Colliery, it seemed somehow anticlimactic.

However the poppies have grown on me and the city has welcomed them warmly.

The poppies are open to the public from 10am to 6pm daily, with a metal barricade placed around the site after hours, but you can still see them and photograph them. The first time David and I went to see them was around 10pm on a stormy Sunday night. My pictures are not as good as the ones I took of the Wave, but I did have my camera on the wrong setting for night-time pictures (silly me!)

Poppies at night

St George’s Hall: Weeping Window at night

The second time I visited, I went with my Mum while Christmas shopping but once again I forgot to change the setting on my phone, so never got any fancy ones with just the colour of the poppies showing through. It was a dreary day light wise too which seems to be the norm of late. No sooner had the poppies arrived in Liverpool, then there seems to have been nothing but a succession of storms. There hasn’t been many days when the sun has shone! I live in hope that there will be at least one bright weekend, before they leave the city on 17th January 2016, so David and I can visit them one last time.

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The 2016 leg of the poppy tour has been recently announced and there could be at least one, maybe two more occasions where David and I will see the poppies. The new sites and dates are as follows:

  • Lincoln Castle, The Wave – 28th May to 4th September
  • The Black Watch Museum, Perth, The Weeping Window – 30th June to 25th September
  • Caernarfon Castle, The Weeping Window – 12th October to 20th November

If you have not had the chance to see the poppies, maybe you will be able to see them at these stunning new locations next year?

© 2015 Christine Lucas.

#PoppiesTour

Thursday dawned bright, yet cold, there was condensation on the windows. David and I, at 9 am set off on our journey to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The journey took us just under an hour and a half and the sat nav guided us through winding country lanes towards the park. We have been to the park before in April this year. We went then to see the outside exhibition of Henry Moore sculpture. This time we planned to go and see The Wave, part of the Tower of London Poppies.

Like everyone else I was mesmerised by photographs of the poppies that graced the Tower of London last year. I was excited when it was announced that the poppies were going on a UK tour!

The poppies were created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper for their installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, commissioned for the World War One centenary. I think their work of thousands of poppies, each one symbolising a fallen British or Colonial soldier took on a life of it’s own.

If you expect to see a sight like there was at the Tower of London, then you will be sorely disappointed. If, like me, you go to visit The Wave, and it’s counterpart The Weeping Window, presently displayed at Woodhorn Colliery, Northumberland, to see a unique art installation, then you will not be disappointed.

The Wave

The Wave at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Once the car was parked and the £8 parking fee was paid (it’s for all day so relatively cheap), we walked the paths and followed the cardboard cut outs of poppies leading the way. It took us about 20 minutes to walk towards the poppies arching over the Cascade Bridge. From a distance you could see the red haze that the many poppy heads created and as you drew nearer, each one had a unique individuality.

Poppies

Poppies

We spent just over two hours at the park. Had our picnic lunch with The Wave resplendent before us. Even on a week day there were streams of visitors coming to look at the poppies, to photograph them or to just take in their symbolic meaning.

Christine and the Poppies

Christine and the Poppies

I wish I could make it to Woodhorn but at three hours drive there and three hours back I don’t think David will be too keen to make that journey. Luckily for us The Weeping Window is set to come to Liverpool’s St. George’s Hall in November so I will get to see the second part of this striking art installation. I can’t wait! 😀

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I’ll end this post with the poem that inspired the poppy WW1 centenary art commission.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
By Anon – Unknown Soldier

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As I put my hand to reach,
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.
As the tears of mine fell to the ground,
To sleep with the flowers of red,
As any be dead.
My children see and work through fields
of my own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.
It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell, to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around,
And the rain so thick with black
thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more.
I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back So sleep, kiss the boys for me.