By Prof. Sehdev Kumar
TORONTO: Who ever dares to tell the spectacular misery of a war from the point of view of its most vulnerable participants and victims: Horses?
The grand and mesmerizing theatrical production, War Horse, at Prince of Wales Theatre in Toronto tells this story with dramatic aplomb and heart-rending poignancy.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s anti-war novel by the same title, the theatrical production in Toronto has travelled triumphantly from the National Theatre of Great Britain to Toronto captivating audiences in hordes.
It is a story set in the gruesome First World War of 1914-18, where millions of men perished in a most senseless and devastating war. But it was also a war – like all wars in all corners of the world for a few thousand years – where countless horses also perished under the onslaught of new weaponry and new kind of warfare: tanks, air bombings, heavy artillery, machine guns, trenches, poison gases, barbed wires.
They died hungry; they died stuck in mud and snow; they died trapped in barbed wires. They bled to death. They died frozen. They died hungry.
For the first time in theatre a team of brilliant performers, ingenious puppeteers, imaginative stage design, lighting and sound artists, have made a horse as the protagonist of a tragic drama that is all engineered by human folly and morbidity. One soldier in the play cries out: “The war was supposed to make a man of me. But now I have become half a man.”
It is a necessary tribute to artists, writers, musicians and poets that in a play like War Horse, they are increasingly raising their eloquent voices against the barbarism of wars in which humans, animals and the earth itself are all brutalized.
Not too long ago, the poets and dramatists sang the glories of war and of warriors; they whipped up a stupefying frenzy against the ‘enemy’ and ‘dehumanized’ him. They made it appear as though violence and wars were intricately woven in the human nature and our destiny.
Here, in this play, in the haunting voice of Melanie Doane, we are called upon to remember the misery that a war unleashes on one and all. There is nothing glorious about a war.
War Horse is a spectacular show; its technical wizardry is mesmerizing, and its message is haunting. It tells the story of deep bond and love between a young boy and his horse, who is sold off to fight in a war and is slaughtered in a land, not his own.
The dying horse moans and whispers; one hopes we can hear him. His message must echo in this century in every corner of the earth, and in the ears and hearts of the young and old alike: “We – humans and animals – are all nettled together in the great web of life.”
The real enemy is one who lays barbed wires around this delicate web, and does not recognize its creative potential to grow.
War Horse runs at Prince of Wales Theatre in Toronto until January 6.
(Prof. Sehdev Kumar lectures on International Cinema in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto)