War Horse at the BBC Proms: A Moving Spectacle

As a first time Prom-goer, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a Prom.

As a first time Prom-goer, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a Prom. That’s why I chose the War Horse Prom on 3rd August for my first real venture into the world of classical music. Because it was a themed Prom I thought it would be more approachable – and I was right.

The Prom focused on the First World War for this year’s centenary. It condensed the story of the National Theatre’s War Horse, which was aided by an inspired selection of music and stories from the war. The War Horse puppets and ensemble were joined onstage by Gareth Malone and the Military Wives Choir, and there was also a special guest appearance from Michael Morpurgo, author of the original book

A Powerful Piece

One of the main themes was the seasons, which were used as a framework to show the passing of time and the effects of the war. As it was a family event, there were a few moments of humour involving the puppets to lighten the tone and prevent it from becoming too serious, but the overall tone was one of remembrance and commemoration. The story of War Horse fitted perfectly with the soaring score and made for a very moving and emotional performance.

The visual effects were simple, yet just as effective as fancier staging. During the Military Wives’ rendition of Elgar’s partsongs The Snow, flakes of artificial snow fell, which added an extra dimension to the music. Similarly, an old-fashioned film was used to project the action close-up onto the screen. 

However, the most moving use of the effects was also the simplest. Real photographs from the war were played across the screens, showing a snapshot of the many animals that were used by both sides. This really put things into perspective, serving as a reminder of the thousands of animals that suffered during the war. 

Audience participation

Another thing I really liked about the Prom was the fact that the audience were involved as much as possible, and on several occasions the ensemble walked among the audience.  When the War Horse puppet Joey was first introduced in the middle of the audience it was the moment, for me, that stood out the most. 

During this section, stalks of grass and flowers were handed out to the crowd, and we were encouraged to wave them in the air to represent a meadow swaying in the breeze. Although simple, this looked amazing to those seated higher up. We were also encouraged to join in at times with a few of the songs – Henry Wood’s New War Hymn and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. However, not being familiar with Prom etiquette, I did find it odd not applauding at the end of each movement.  

A sensory overload

There were only a few things for me that stopped the Prom from being perfect. Firstly, there was a bit towards the end where I got a little lost. This was because there was so much happening in different places that it was hard to know where to look.

The most confusing section reflected on the stories of some of the famous women from the war, and to fully understand who each woman was you needed to read the information on the screens. However, the problem with that was that you couldn’t pay attention to both at the same time, especially from my seat where there wasn’t a screen in an easy eye-line. 

Even so, the most irritating thing for me, was when several people came in late during the performance and disrupted multiple rows of people whilst trying to reach their seats. Normally I don’t have a problem with latecomers, but these people arrived at least half an hour in, which seems pointless in a show that only lasts an hour and a half.

However, these minor negatives didn’t manage to detract from the overall performance. It was a brilliantly staged and deeply moving commemoration of the war, and it was definitely worth attending. 

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.