War Horse is the best play I've ever seen – meaningful, disturbing, and persistent. Others agree. In December 2010, War Horse was dubbed "the theatrical event of the decade" by The Times and it welcomed its millionth visitor at its West End London location this year. The puppetry of the life size horses is transcendent . They move, breathe, whinny, snort, rear up, gallop, suffer and die as surely as the noble creatures themselves. The futility and uncontrollable madness of war is laid bare through an equine perspective. Within moments you are involved more viscerally then watching a screen.
The sad fact – in World War I, over 8 millions of horses died alongside those no more in control than them. A war entered with horse powered mentality but exited with machines and technology in the ascendant. Presaging the pilot-less drones and other remote controlled weaponry that is quickly becoming the warfare of the 21st century.
The WW I poet Wilfred Owen described war as the "seventh hell." Despite being awarded the Military Cross, his poems were cries of anguish, revealing the 'pity of war.' To kill fellow human beings, he believed it is necessary to abandon the basic morality of civilized life. He called this painful mental adjustment the"soldier's loss of feeling". Owen's pacifism was forged in this horror. Perhaps we, who have managed to escape such physical, mental and emotional trauma, have lost certain feelings too. Is an intellectual commitment to peace enough? If not I recommend seeing War Horse. The play is touring North America.
"I am more and more a Christian. . . Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed: but do not kill." Wilfred Owen – Letter to his mother, May 1917.
Ted Talk – The Genius Puppetry Behind War Horse
For inspiration on recovery from the devastation of war have a look at the short film The Man Who Planted Trees by Academy Award winner Frédérick Back. A number of years ago my friend Jacques Dufresne introduced me to M. Back a gracious, kind and immensely talented man. We were honoured when he donated the photographs from his film for use in our website, www.philia.ca
Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy explores the aftermath of WWI trauma in England. The books are a blend of history and fiction and include Wilfred Owen and his fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon. “I think the whole British psyche is suffering from the contradiction you see in Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, where the war is both terrible and never to be repeated and at the same time experiences derived from it are given enormous value,” Barker observed.
Couldn’t agree more – War Horse was one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen. At the end of our posting in London, we visited the WW1 and WW11 sites of Northern France. Very, very moving and the principal lesson was the futility and the terrible tragedy of so much loss. May we learn our lessons of war and seek peace. F. Back is our teacher in this regard.
Along with the writers that you mentioned above, might I recommend Sebastien Barry. I have just finished reading A Long, Long Way by him. The story takes place in the First World War. Two weeks after having finished it, I am still haunted by the feeling the book created. As a sign says on a neighbouring street: In war, no one is left unwounded.