War Horse as Act of Remembrance

Winding up my Tour de France adventure, I enjoyed my last 24 hours in London. I stayed at the exquisite Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington. They sent me an email a few days before my arrival asking if there was anything they could do to enhance my experience. My friend suggested seeing the stage production of War Horse. The concierge efficiently fetched tickets and after an afternoon of fossicking around bookshops in South Kensington, I duly trundled off to New London Theatre on Drury Lane to see the play.

I tried to read to the book by Michael Marpurgo and got emotionally swamped. It is told in the horse Joey’s point of view. And like Black Beauty it is gut wrenching. I may have seen about 5 minutes of the Steven Spielberg movie and could not stand the idea, again, of horses suffering even if make believe. Afterall, they did suffer cruelly in World War I, as did people. So I was a little nervous about seeing a stage production. I was also curious about how they would handle the staging and the horse characters. 

Wow. I mean WOW!!!!  Just the puppetry was worth the admission price to witness. It is amazing. I have since found an awesome Ted Talk that describes how they created Joey. Please watch.

The play beautifully illustrated the complete stupidity of World War I. While it is not unique among wars (all wars are stupid), it is the first where technology completely bamboozled strategists. I can understand sending the cavalry in once against machine guns. But again and again? Stupendously stupid. It was all the more poignant for me because of my Grandma Hazel Olson’s beloved horse sold to the US Cavalry. I can only hope that he never made it to Europe–that maybe his high spirits made him too difficult to work with or too attractive to some officer who was on active duty at the Mexican border. 

It is a very moving production, even more thrilling seen in a smallish theater with actors running by right in front of our seats. I realize War Horse has been on stage and travelled the world already so I am not on the cutting edge of theatre. If you have not seen it, make the effort. You will be richly rewarded.

Researching and honoring my great uncle Frank Denham on Le Tour Adventure was worthwhile and added some emotional depth to my experience. I am not going to stop learning about the war either. My favorite conversation on the topic was with my cabbie who gave me a lift from the train station to the Ampersand. With his East End accent he held forth on a number of topics. I told him about my interest in World War I and he said the machine gun was invented by an American living in London, but the British officers did not want to use it (at first) because it “wasn’t cricket.” (meaning that as gentlemen it was not the proper way to conduct warfare). I responded, “But the Germans have never played cricket.” We both shared a rueful laugh. 

All of this remembering while the conflict in Ukraine results in a civilian jet liner shot down, and Gaza rages on; it is a wonder to me that mankind has not wiped itself off the earth yet. Perhaps the reason we yet remain is found in the sparks of creativity that still ignite in puppeteers and writers and many others who choose to spend their energy creating beauty and celebrating truth rather than the dark arts of war. This is the path I choose.

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