True confession: I love Joey. The horse, that is. Well...the puppet horse.
Thanks to the National Theatre Live's encore screening at Symphony Space on Monday night, I got to see the play for the fifth time. Yes, I saw it four times in New York. No, I didn't pay full price because of TDF, LincTix (for theatre patrons ages 21 to 35), and Student Rush.
The story itself is a mix between a romance and a period piece, just with a boy and horse instead of a boy and girl. Sixteen year old Albert falls in love with Joey the horse. Albert loses Joey to the war effort. Albert joins army in order to find Joey. It's a sweet and heartwarming story, but pretty predictable.
So why go see it so many times? Why not just watch the Spielberg film? The puppets. They are the heart and soul and magic of this piece. The amazing thing about the puppets is that the puppeteers are in plain sight. Yet, no matter how hard you try to focus on the puppeteers (and believe me, I have), they bring Joey and Topthorn, Joey's army horse friend, to life in such a way that you just stop seeing them. There are several moments where the puppets' choreography takes my breath away.
The National Theatre production is slightly different from the Broadway one. The text is altered for one. Captain Nichols has a heroic and nationalistic speech before the first cavalry charge in Act I that was cut from the Broadway production, probably because it wouldn't resonate in the same way. In addition, this production has several small parts spoken in French and German. In the Broadway production, these were spoken in English with exaggerated accents. I personally think the comedy worked better in French and German, especially during the No Man's Land scene. I think the assumption is that British audiences are more likely to know some conversational German and French, whereas American audiences aren't. Things like this make me think that Brits are just naturally smarter.
The performances were quite good. Sion Young's (Albert) performance was adorable in the first act but really took off in the second act. Ian Shaw (Friedrich) was also quite good once he decided to stop shouting so much. The ensemble member singing lead in the folk songs had a particularly poignant and beautiful voice. All three of the horse teams were brilliant, but I loved the team performing Topthorn. Their performance was wonderfully spirited.
I think NTLive might need to readjust lighting design for these live streamed productions though. Several scenes were quite dark on film, which makes me think that they didn't adjust anything for the live stream. That's a small quibble, however.
There are three more encore performances this month at Symphony Space on April 3, 11, and 16. I highly recommend that you see this if you didn't see it when it was in New York. General admission tickets are $23 (regular), $21 (students and seniors), and $19 (Symphony Space members). If you're not in New York, performances near you can be found here.
And if you need some convincing first, see the videos below.
TED Talk featuring Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones (Handspring Puppet Company).
Joey in action at Sandown Park, Esher Park.
But seriously...go see the show. You won't regret it.