I had the opportunity to take my oldest daughter to see the renowned play War Horse at the Dallas Winspear Opera House last week (the play will run there until Sep. 23). She hasn't seen the movie yet, as she's a little young for the PG-13 violence, but she has read the book twice. The play was an amazing experience for both of us, and the story, told through three different mediums, is a fabulously educational and thought provoking experience for older kids.
My daughter and I were impressed by the unique artistry of the play. The horses are Handspring Puppets, which are maneuvered by actors on the side and underneath the horse. At first, it was a little confusing and distracting to my daughter to be able to see the actors working the horses. We discussed different methods of storytelling, and I pointed out to her that in the case of a movie, everything has to look real, but a play is a method of storytelling that can use all kinds of props to convey the events that take place. You could perform a play with just a couple of paper bag puppets, and although you could see the puppeteer, the telling of the story is what is important.
So, the creativity in getting that story across is one of the aspects of War Horse that we focused on. I asked her to look for all the creative methods they used to set the scene and portray the events, and she had a lot of fun pointing them out and explaining how she thought they added to the story or the experience. The unexpected and unusual elements of War Horse make the play interesting and gave us so much to talk about. From the patina color scheme to the torn screen which helped to tell the story and enhance the scene, so many details add to the experience. One of both of our favorite elements was the wonderful singer who provides a sort of Greek chorus as he appears throughout the play to sing about the story (another great storytelling element to discuss with kids!).
After the play, we compared it to the book. She thought it would be important to read the book first, because in the play there just isn't time to show everything. Also, the book is written from the horse's perspective, and since horses can't talk, the intimate thoughts of the main character are not heard in the play. She didn't think the story came across as fully in the play is it does in the book, but we did agree that the play conveyed the story poignantly and was absolutely beautiful to watch. The play does contain some language, which was a bit shocking to her, but she took it in stride. And while this play about a horse getting caught up in the middle of a war certainly portrays a significant amount of violence, it's obviously not nearly as graphic as the movie. I am anxious to show her the movie in a couple of years and see what she thinks.
No matter how you watch or read it, though, the story of War Horse will touch your heart and mind. For kids, it presents a great way to teach them about WWI and war in general. More importantly, it's a story that will cause them to think and feel. The idea of this innocent young horse being tossed from one side of battle to the other, experiencing horrific hardships because of the whims of those who are responsible for his care, or lack thereof, reminds us all that our decisions can have lasting impacts on ourselves and others.
There is so much meat to the story, I could go on and on. I recommend the book and play for kids about 8-9 and up and the movie for kids 12-13 and up, depending on how your child responds to heavy war violence. Reading the book and seeing the play and movie presents such a rare and amazing opportunity to see an inspiring story told three different ways.
- Find out when the play War Horse will come to a theater near you!
- Read our full interview with Michael Morpurgo
- Read a review of the movie War Horse
(Photos courtesy AttPac)