REVIEW: Warhorse

Words by Duncan Caillard

Launched in June 2009, National Theatre Live broadcasts the best British theatre ‘live’ to select cinemas around the world. From world-renowned productions of Shakespeare to international blockbusters like Warhorse, National Theatre Live distributes world-class theatre to an international audience who would otherwise be unable to get to the West End.

Now available to an Australian audience, the near-live broadcast of Warhorse captures a great deal of the magic of the original stage production, which ended its Melbourne run last year. All for the price of a movie ticket.

Warhorse follows the relationship between a boy and his horse in the lead-up to World War I, and the quest for each other in the horrific shadow of the conflict. Brought to life through the use of stunning puppetry and design, Warhorse is truly a marvel to experience. Touching, well lit and often incredibly funny, the play itself is a theatrical triumph. Aside from the horses, which are themselves mechanical masterpieces, the film is highlighted by the hauntingly beautiful vocals of singer Ben Murray and a particularly hilarious scene-stealing goose.

Warhorse’s success as a broadcast hinges on how successfully it can bridge the disparate mediums of film and theatre. Thankfully, it successfully achieves this balance. Both the sound and cinematography are excellent and do a great deal to capture the magic of the stage play. However, as is always the case when collapsing three dimensions into two, a degree of depth is lost in the transmission.

Ultimately, National Theatre Live’s broadcast of Warhorse serves as a fitting facsimile of the original production . For those of us who weren’t lucky enough to see it in the first time around—or who loved it so much that they’d like to see it again—the live broadcast of Warhorse is a terrific way to catch an extraordinary play.