Theatre Review – War Horse @ New London Theatre

Directors: Marianne Elliott, Tom Norris

Writers: Nick Stafford (play), Michael Morpurgo (novel)

Stars: Jack Monaghan, Nicholas Bishop, Andy Williams, Nicola Stephenson

Premiere date: 2007

Genre: Drama



Best part: The puppetry.

Worst part: The exhaustive story.

Broadway and the West End are the dreamscapes of aspiring theatre actors, directors, and playwrights. As theatre’s most prestigious hubs, they light up the night’s sky with billboards and prowess. Productions including Les Miserables, Wicked, and The Lion King have garnered huge profit margins and critical acclaim several times over. Nowadays, the world’s biggest cinema and theatre industries have a helluva lot in common. In fact, said theatre productions drastically overshadow the industry’s smaller players.

Joey and Albert Narracott (Jack Monaghan).

Joey and Albert Narracott (Jack Monaghan).

War Horse is a prime example of big-budget theatre’s stranglehold over New York, London, and everywhere in between. Despite its immense power, the play is only one minuscule part of a multi-billion dollar franchise. The play, based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 smash hit children’s novel, turns a modest fantasy tale into an exhaustive and overwrought epic. Originally, Morpurgo thought the adaptation was a bad idea. Now, as the royalty cheques flood in, he’s keeping his mouth shut. See, even the world’s most prestigious entertainment hubs are wrought with opportunistic business dealings. No one is innocent! Today, though Steven Spielberg’s misjudged 2011 cinematic adaptation flew in one ear and out the other, the play still works. Just remember, as you walk up the New London theatre’s winding staircases, this adaptation was never considered original or revelatory. The narrative, sticking close to the original story, covers multiple time periods and character arcs. Under the guise of our equine hero, the story depicts war, love, chaos, and heartache. Bought at a Devon auction by alcoholic farmer Ted Narracott (Andy Williams) for 39 guineas (a baffling amount for a poor man in the early 20th century), the horse becomes his son Albert(Jack Monaghan)’s best friend. Named “Joey” by the young farm-hand, the horse is heavily scrutinised by Albert’s mother Rose (Nicola Stephenson) and Ted’s wealthy brother Arthur (Nigel Betts). Trained to plow, the horse becomes the family farm’s lifeblood.

One of many war scenes.

One of many war scenes.

Premiering at the National Theatre in 2007, War Horse is a long-lasting theatre staple. Drawing mass audiences to London’s busiest district, the premise resonates with multiple demographics and tastes. Fit for action junkies, youngsters, criers, and frustrated parents, this production crafts the perfect recipe for appeal. It’s fit for every king, queen, soldier, and stable boy across London. Defined by immense storytelling and technical precision, the production is worth every penny. Despite the positives, War Horse gallops into many deathtraps before reaching its heartbreaking finale. The flaws, carried over Morpurgo’s original material, nearly trample this page-to-stage experiment. Playwright Nick Stafford crafts a similarly indulgent and treacle adaptation. Despite  dodging Joey’s point of view, the non-human characters cause several unfortunate foibles. Being one of modern literature’s most nondescript and manipulative characters, our lead only carries so much, ahem, horsepower. Stretching to fit the monstrous 160-minute run-time, the narrative darts into several meaningless and hokey directions. After winning over the farmland and town, Joey is sold to Captain Nicholls (Nicholas Bishop). What follows is an egregious war-drama depicting slaughter, prisoners of war, sacrifice, and raw courage. Switching from comfortably comedic and viscerally bleak, the topsy-turvy story is untamable. In the transition from humble page-turner to sweeping epic, the story’s emotional impact and thematic weight becomes wholly diluted.

“We’ll be alright Joey. We’re the lucky ones, you and me. Lucky since the day I met you.” (Albert Narracott (Jack Monaghan), War Horse).

The production true majesty.

The production true majesty.

Forcing us to care about its sorrowful characters and dour narrative, War Horse is blindingly manipulative. The second half, following Albert into World War I after Joey, delivers several fine twists and turns. However, the human characters – given little development – serve only to admire our equine warrior. Despite the weepy moments, the story never solidifies Albert’s affection for Joey. However, despite the story and character foibles, the production itself elevates the material. Galloping between set pieces, story-lines, and characters, the show saddles up the beast, brushes it clean, and shows it off to the adoring public. An example of style and spectacle over substance, it works in fits and starts. In fact, certain set pieces deliver many thrills and chills. Delving into magical realism, the production crafts a balance between sprawling wild fantasy and gritty conflict. Aiming for David Lean’s signature story tropes and visuals, the production survives on technical achievements and wholehearted direction. One scene, examining the story’s true potential, delves straight into the war. After Joey is trapped in barbed wire, a British and German officer work together to free him from a bloody demise. In this scene, the equine and human characters exude enough empathy to captivate a modern audience. Most importantly, the Handspring Puppet Company deliver unparalleled compositions. Handled by three puppeteers (listed as the head, heart, and hind), the horse puppet is a meticulous creation. Constructed of an intricate wire frame, the horse characters are much more fascinating than their human counterparts.

Reaching for its own stellar reputation, War Horse crafts seminal moments and value-for-money entertainment. Thanks to stellar direction, puppetry, and performances, this soulful drama reaches a wide audience. Predictably, this is one of the West End’s most awe-inspiring productions. However, carrying major story and character flaws, the production never capitalizes on its premise. For all the crashes and bangs, the play is as manipulative as the titular creature.

Verdict: A flawed but sumptuous production.

Flickers & Footsteps – Bond in Motion @ The London Film Museum

For the past few months, the London Film Museum in Covent Garden has showcased some of Earth’s sexiest, most dangerous, and most enviable cars. Of course, these cars are from the James Bond film franchise. After 23 Ian Fleming-inspired films, 007 has smashed, crashed, and bashed his custom-made Aston Martins, jet-skis, planes, helicopters, motorcycles etc. across the world all in the name of Queen and country. I went along to the film museum to take some snaps of these prestigious models. Honouring the Bond Legacy, the Bond in Motion exhibit displays some of the many storyboards, set pictures, props, and vehicles used to propel this franchise into the cinema history books.

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The exhibition will be on through the duration of 2014.

Fast and Furious 6 Review – Machismo & Muscle Cars

Director: Justin Lin

Writer: Chris Morgan

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez

Release date: May 34th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, Spain

Running time: 130 minutes


Best part: The kick-ass action sequences.

Worst part: The painfully unfunny one-liners.

The Fast and Furious franchise is a baffling and impressive creation. It’s notoriously known to be an example of Hollywood’s apparent lack of care and commitment. I believe this presupposition is a little unfair. Despite its flaws, it has always committed to its goal of being pure escapist entertainment. This series is like a good wine- it gets better with age. Fast and Furious 6 (labelled Furious 6 in the opening credits) is, so far, the most enthralling and inspired instalment.

Vin Diesel & Paul Walker.

This instalment is a sprawling, occasionally messy, and light-hearted action flick. The film kicks into gear immediately and never stalls. The story, such as it is, is as predictable as death and taxes (two things that this series’ characters have avoided at all costs). After the cataclysmic events of Fast Five, former street racer, turned career criminal, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is embracing his financial and spiritual riches. His life of luxury, with girlfriend Elena (Elsa Pataky), is made whole by his best friend Brian (Paul Walker), Brian’s wife/Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their new-born child. However, his life takes a turn for the weird when Diplomatic Security Service Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) asks Dom, and his rag-tag team of professional criminals, to help him. Hobbs’ bargaining chip is a week-old picture of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) – Dom’s former girlfriend, whom was believed to have been killed in a previous instalment. The team, also featuring Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Giselle (Gal Gadot), Han (Sung Kang), and Riley (Gina Carano), go after notorious criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his own team. However, this mission will prove, to everyone involved, that trust can be a person’s biggest weakness.

Dwayne Johnson & Gina Carano.

From its ‘humble’ beginnings to now, the Fast and Furious franchise has become a suped-up soap opera with its own convoluted mythology. This series has been more productive than most people realise. Not only has it carried on for over a decade, but it has inspired an entire generation of youths to customise their cars and abrasively rev their engines at every hottie walking by. If you are walking into the sixth instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise, then don’t expect high art. Instead, expect a movie that understands just how preposterous this series has become. This instalment recognises its roots (illustrated early on with an eye-catching trip down memory lane during the opening credits sequence). Fast Five and Furious 6 have given this franchise an epic sense of scale and many awe-inspiring moments. By taking this series out of the streets of L.A., and setting instalments in countries such as Japan, Brazil, London, and Spain, director Justin Lin has made this series his own. This is his fourth and final Fast and Furious film, and the series won’t be the same without his magnetic touch. Here, his pacy and kinetic style overshadows the plot’s many small inconsistencies and overall silliness. This continent-hopping tale of worldwide terrorism and extreme heroics is surprisingly interesting. Lin delivers a much grittier instalment here compared to what we have seen before. By giving the team a good reason to return to the action, this movie sees every character continually put their lives on the line.

Michelle Rodriguez & Luke Evans.

 This series is home to some of the most impressive action sequences in film history. This film, somehow, tops Fast Five’s inventive and destructive vault-heist sequence. Every action set piece here is thrilling and balletic. Unlike most action directors, Lin knows where to place the camera and how to deliver everything that action-movie fans would want to see. The technical magic displayed in every car chase and fist-fight has to be seen to be believed. The first action set-piece is more thrilling and climactic than any action sequence with Michael Bay’s name on it. This set-piece winds skilfully through London’s narrow streets. A giant explosion is followed by a stunning car chase (featuring Batmobile-like race cars) that is then followed by a revelation that pushes the story forward. Lin proves that he puts 110% into every idea he has (watch the paint-balling episodes of Community to embrace more of his genius). Somehow, the action set-pieces increase in both scale and spectacle from there. The car/tank chase on a Spanish highway causes multi-millions of dollars in damage and costs many innocent lives. Cars are pancaked whilst the goodies weave through the freeway’s intricate set-up. Apparently, the laws of physics don’t apply to any freaky stunts that Dom and Shaw’s teams have up their sleeves.

“You don’t turn your back on family. Even when they do.” Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Fast & Furious 6).

A flying Tyrese Gibson.

This instalment is essentially a Mission: Impossible or Expendables sequel. The teamwork displayed by Dom’s gang is both endearing and touching. Many people will struggle to fathom why a special agent would assign a top-secret mission to a bunch of former car thieves. I, however, believe that Hobbs and Riley surround themselves with lawbreakers in order to think like, and eventually catch, lawbreakers. All of these actors, except for Johnson, are uninteresting in other films. However, these B-grade action stars work well together. Their witty banter builds a significant amount of chemistry. In an effort to toughen-up each character, the elaborate speeches, one-liners, and threats are delivered in an over-the-top fashion. However, the homoerotic overtones, created by the multiple bromances on display here, contrast the stern and overblown performances (it seemed like Hobbs and Toretto were about to make out at any second!). Diesel is strangely charming in this role. Despite slurring every line, his smirk-filled performance is effective here. Walker, on the other hand, is as boring as a Daewoo! Johnson is charismatic as the no-bull special agent. He continues his run of convincing action-star performances with his menacing turn and inhumanly-muscular frame. Gibson, Bridges, and Kang are commendable in their supporting roles. Evans fits into the antagonist role with ease, turning in a star-making performance for this forgettable Bond villain-like character.

Lin has created a Fast and Furious instalment that ably balances action, drama, character, and comedy. Despite its obvious ridiculousness and predictable plot, this movie is a highly-recommendable blockbuster. The biggest problem may, in fact, be the idiots who rev their engines and speed through the car park on their way home! Ps. be sure to stick around for the puzzling yet intriguing post-credits sequence.

Verdict: The best Fast and Furious flick yet!