Big horseshoes to fill: War Horse leads this week’s theatre highlights

The acclaimed production is back in Dublin; plus: Stones in His Pockets is revived again

War Horse is at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin from April 10th to 27th

War Horse is at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin from April 10th to 27th

 

WAR HORSE
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin. Apr 10-27 €21 bordgaisenergytheatre.ie

Just watching Joey at rest is a pleasure; his chest subtly rising and dipping with his breathing, his ear pivoting, then a quick snort. This is the principal character of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, now embodied by South Africa’s remarkable Handspring Puppet Company to provide the Royal National Theatre’s 2007 production with its star. If only the people it depicted were so lifelike. The book is told from Joey’s perspective, making him an attentive witness to the brutality of the first World War, first in France with the British cavalry, and briefly transferring to the German side, all the while pursued by his besotted 16-year-old owner, Albert. Nick Stafford’s stage adaptation makes the horse more watched than watcher, the rust-red centre of attention for both the characters and the audience. It also simplifies the story beyond sentimentality: boy meets horse, boy loses horse, boy attempts to get horse back again. That brings about a curious combination of naivety and gravity, where the children’s book narrative is stretched thin against the historical backdrop. But the odder consequence is that this exquisite puppetry asks you to ignore the many people behind it, just as the mechanised war conceals the scale of human loss. Both are a kind of monument to the overlooked. “What about the countless men who died here?” asks one character. “Why don’t you show some pity for them?” War is inhuman, of course. Sometimes it’s just easier to sympathise with the animals.

STONES IN HIS POCKETS
Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. Apr 8-13 8pm €21 gaietytheatre.ie

Marie Jones’s 1996 play Stones in his Pockets, currently revived yet again at the Gaiety, is probably the industry standard in multiple roleplay. Each night two small-fry film extras, Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn, plucked out of numerous locals for an American movie shoot in Kerry, rapidly build up a gallery of 13 more characters – among them the female movie starlet, the film director, the production team and assorted villagers, including two 12-year-old boys.

This they do with a scarcity of props or costume changes, while a row of footwear at the back of the stage reminds you of all the shoes they have to fill. For many, those shoes will always belong to the show’s originators, Conleth Hill and Seán Campion, whose careers went stratospheric following the international success of Jones’s play. And you don’t need to look too far to see how many people have followed in their footsteps. That the story is uncomplicated and syrupy with sentimentality is hardly the point. With this play, directed by Lindsay Posner, it’s always been about the way you tell it.

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