Galloping into Chicago for a limited engagement, Nick Stafford’s adaptation of British author Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel is both poignant and breathtaking. The play tells of young Albert Narracott and his love for Joey, the foal who grows up under his gentle care to become his best friend. Set against the background of a lonely Devonshire farm and then the French killing fields of World War I, the one element that dominates is the beauty and strength of Albert and Joey’s enduring friendship.
Originating in London and transferring to Broadway’s Lincoln Center in 2011, this brilliant production has won every possible award, including Best Play, director, lighting, sound and scenic design, with a special Tony awarded to South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company for their magnificent animal creations. But to say that Joey (seen both as a foal and an adult) and the other animals are played by puppets diminishes their impact. They are so incredibly lifelike that audiences will immediately forget the fully visible human beings who bring these characters to life. The horses seem to actually breathe, their sides expanding and contracting, as they whinny, gallop, rear up and sail over fences with actors riding them.
Add to these unbelievable animals superb human actors Andrew Veenstra, heartbreaking as 16-year-old Albert, Andrew May as kindly German Captain Friedrich Muller, Chad Jennings as blustering Corporal Klebb and Alex Morf as Private David Taylor. John Milosich and Nathan Koci provide a lovely onstage musical atmosphere to complement the technical artistry of Rae Smith, Paule Constable, Christopher Shutt and 59 Productions‘ sparse sets, authentic costumes, evocative lighting, engulfing sound and projected drawings and animation.
But at the heart of this deeply moving family saga of bravery and friendship are Joey and Albert. Their story of unwavering friendship should not be missed.