THE National Theatre’s adaptation of the children’s novel War Horse is a truly ageless tale.

The production feels epic, and after more than two hours of being carried from rural Devon to the horrors of the Western Front, the overwhelmingly adult audience at Sunderland Empire reacts by giving a standing ovation.

The show based on Michael Morpugo’s tale, which was made into a film by Steven Spielberg in 2011, highlights the futility of the deaths of ten million soldiers in the First World War.

Equally, it tells of the terrors faced by horses, eight million of which were killed, in and around the trenches, by employing life-size and voiceless puppets of a colt, a thoroughbred and a hunter.

Such is the brilliance of the teams of three puppeteers in each horse, minutely mimicking equine mannerisms and movements, that the creatures are really brought to life.

Vivid scenes such as the first cavalry charge into a hail of machine gun fire are emphasised further thanks to a huge projection screen over the stage, featuring drawings of landscapes, clouds and storms.

Light-hearted this is not, but such is the drama it is unforgettable.

Punchy dialogue, folk songs, plenty of dry ice being used as battlefield smoke and clever stage lighting add further to the galloping pace of the intense production, but some relief comes with the puppets of swallows, crows and a mischievous goose.

With shocking gunshots and the roar of tanks and cannons the production presents brutal realities, which is perhaps why, as the show draws to a close, the reunion of the show’s stars, Albert and Joey, is so emotion-inducing. They are both from a gentler world.

n War Horse is showing in the Sunderland Empire until February 23, for tickets, visit

Stuart Minting