I fell in love with War Horse the stage show when I saw a documentary about the making of it - I practically cried when I saw the relationship between the horses and the people it was so beautiful.
War Horse is theatre on a grand scale - big stage, excellent cast, amazing props, costumes, staging, lights etc..... - but it is also wonderful example how engaging and playful theatre can be.
The puppets (it feels weird calling them puppets, there should be another word to describe this type of puppet) provide an opportunity for story telling that otherwise couldn’t be done in a theatre (e.g. having horses!) and the willingness of the actors and audience to engage in this type of story telling allow for a stripped down theatre experience where not being realistic isn’t a constraint.
This is one of the things I love about theatre - we are already suspending disbelief by being in a confined space, probably the dark, watching a story that didn’t really happen to the actors, so why not embrace this opportunity of playfulness? Make worlds that are engaging, playful, enchanting - don't just invite us to use our imagination but allow us to - to fill in the gaps of what we can see.
This sort of theatre encourages the audience to engage in the story despite the surroundings and the impossibilities. I was always curious as to how they would do the war scenes in War Horse and I was so impressed with their tanks and barb wire - it was terrifying. This was clearly not realistic but it was real in the true sense of great art - it touched us as the audience because they were not constrained by their unrealistic props and environment but liberated by them.
If you ever get the chance to see it, then I encourage you to.
If you ever get the chance to create theatre that is liberated by its lack of realism, I encourage that also. I believe the audience is probably more willing to ‘play’ with you than you think!