Up Close and Personal with War Horse
Cathy Crabb and her 11-year-old daughter Hazel went to see War Horse at The Lowry in Salford and then to the War Horse family event at Manchester’s Central Library two days later. This is their experience.
Me and Hazel are sharing a laptop at the moment – not the best way to embark on a six week break – so we have both written this together in between me ‘cleaning’ the kitchen and Hazel ‘cleaning’ her room. The holidays have just begun and Hazel is going to senior school at the end of it. This will probably be the last summer that we share family activity events together.
Cathy Crabb: Why did you think that War Horse was outstanding?
Hazel: The acting for a start, the emotion expressed through the puppets was almost unreal. Unusually, I felt that the most emotion was coming from the goose. The main characters such as Albert, his Mum and his Dad were exceptionally well portrayed.
CC: We saw Steve Hillman who played the Dad afterwards? He was outside having a fag, we said hello didn’t we?
H: Yes, on our way to the stage door.
CC: What did you like so much about the goose? I liked how the goose was there a lot but not part of the main story. I liked how the goose didn’t have to be part of the production, it was just there for comedy purposes. What emotion was it expressing?
H: I believe the goose was expressing curiosity in the way that it was always wanting to know what was going on. And wanting to go inside the house.
CC: When you say the emotion was almost unreal what do you mean? Not effective?
H: It was done very well.
CC: Oh right, so when you say ‘unreal’ you mean like ‘awesome’? You have to say how it was done very well, in what way – remember your reader may not have seen War Horse so they need an idea of what it looks like and how the actors were.
H: The acting was done very professionally and it looked very good from an audience point of view.
CC: Okay, well which character did you identify with the most? It doesn’t have to be one of the humans, it can be one of the puppets.
H: Having read the book beforehand, it gave me some insight on the characters but I think I’ll have to say Joey because like him I’ve been separated from my friend.
CC: Which friend?
H: Now I am going to high school I am not with my friends in class anymore.
CC: You’ll make new friends though.
H: I suppose. I just hope my classmates are nice…this doesn’t have anything to do with War Horse.
CC: It does a bit. I identified with the Mum the most, I know what it’s like to try and please everyone and keep things going. Am I like that as a Mum?
H: No, Mum.
CC: But also, strangely, I identified with the Nazi who pretended to be the auxiliary person. He wanted to escape his duties, he was unhappy in his role and wanted to do something good. Did you know that in the British army in both world wars, the conscientious objectors took on medical/ambulance roles so they didn’t have to kill anyone and could be in positions of care?
H: No, I didn’t. That’s an interesting fact.
CC: Thanks. And don’t forget – even though Albert and Joey were separated, they met other friends along the way didn’t they? That’s what high school will be like I think.
H: This is nothing to do with War Horse, Mum.
CC: So then, on the Saturday we went to the War Horse event at Central Library. There were a number of activities available. Firstly the puppet of Joey came to the library but we didn’t go to that did we? Because Jimmy took us backstage to see the puppets [our friend Jimmy Foster who is dressing on the show]. We should probably say what that was like.
H: Yes it was great to see the puppets backstage, kind of scary, the horses with no legs lingering above you like ghosts and all the dead people on stretchers.
CC: Yes, I thought it was interesting how the horses were against the walls or above you, but everywhere you looked you could see the grey, grotesque figures of the injured soldiers. Makes me think of the song they sing at the end Only remembered for what we have done. But you got to have a go on the goose didn’t you?
H: Yes, well not really I was so scared I would break it I didn’t press hard enough on the controls for it to work.
CC: It isn’t as flimsy as it looks. And Jimmy thought it would be funny to scare us with that Nazi zombie mask didn’t he?
H: Yes that was very funny.
CC: No it wasn’t.
CC: I liked being on-stage, seeing how huge the stage was in the Lyric.
H: Yes that was great.
CC: So, back to the event at Central Library. You had been worried there wasn’t going to be anything for your age, hadn’t you? What did you believe the activity day would be like?
H: Well I thought we would be colouring in pictures of horses with broken crayons and sticking them on lollipop sticks.
CC: But what was it actually like?
H: There was a large range of choice of what you could make puppet-wise. There were lots of coloured tissue papers to glue on and lots of different materials to use.
When the man made the puppet frame for my puppet he scrunched up paper and put it in a paper bag and covered it in glue. Then stuck it on a piece of bamboo. Then he explained that we had to place tissue paper over the top of the frame in the colour we wanted our puppet and sponge glue over the top. And the wet paper could be moulded more into the shape we wanted our puppet to be.
CC: What did you make?
H: I made a brown unicorn by gluing brown tissue to the basic puppet and getting the mane hot-glued on. I also made it a bridle and glued eyes onto it. The bridle was blue and the mane was pink purple and red. Its horn was silver.
CC: I made a puppet of myself with feathers for hair. We were there for ages weren’t we? And there was the documentary about the making of War Horse in the background. It was nice and cool in there and boiling outside.
H: Yes. Remember the random opera singer?
CC: Yes. But it’s the kind of thing you don’t question when you are making a puppet of yourself with feathers for hair. Or a unicorn. You just go with the accompanied opera singer belting out Oh What A Lovely War. Why does everything have to have a purpose anyway?
H: I’m not sure how to reply to that…and you’ve got coconut oil all over the keys.
CC: My skin was drying out.
H: When you go outside you may feel a slight sizzling sensation.
By Cathy Crabb and her daughter Hazel
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Supported by funding from @HeritageFundUK, Betty’s Back! will explore James’s life and works in the context of the 1920s, when the portrait was painted, and will also reveal artwork by Betty Durden Green for the first time.