I spent a lot of yesterday afternoon with tears splashing down my face and trickling down my neck. I was with a thousand other people, many of whom were dabbing uselessly at their eyes or struggling to keep juddering shoulders under control; it was practically full house for the penultimate matinée of the current run of War Horse at the National.
I'd come up by train from Devon, travelling for five hours, just to find myself right back there, but now the countryside was animated by extraordinary lifesize puppets of horses, crows and geese. I sat there wishing all my friends had been in the audience so that we could have shared this astonishing experience.
Michael Morpurgo wrote the book on which the play is based, just a few miles from here in Iddesleigh. For me, the Devon roots of the story added further poignancy to this tale of love, family, war, bitterness, violence, humanity and the ties between man and beast. We see the wrangling sale of a young colt and the bond between growing horse and growing boy seasoning. Humanity in its black, white and grey sides is blatantly portrayed, with both the loss of feeling and the fervent hold onto emotion and kindness when faced with the impossibility of war.
The overwhelming horsepower on stage was so strong that I could almost smell their sweat. Utterly horselike, the puppets were completely convincing as proud cavalry mounts and withered broken-mouthed starvelings; the deaths of horses as desperate as that of men.
Critics who have mocked this piece as a bit of flagrant anthropomorphism have missed the point; the puppetry is masterful, amazing, pure theatre at its most magical, but it is the capturing of the emotional journeys through appalling wickedness, and the death and simultaneous survival of the spirit, human and animal, that had us all weeping.