In late 2007, the National Theatre unveiled its show for the Christmas season of that year, a play adapted from a then little known children’s book. It was an unlikely production that asked us to imagine that puppets were real horses, but that production has now toured all around the World and is still playing in London’s West End. In the long-term, the story of War Horse may do more than anything else to connect new generations to the horrors of World War I, which makes it fitting that it should have been chosen as the centrepiece for this concert to mark the centenary of the commencement of British involvement in that conflict. The concert began with a traditional song and then the Military Wives Choir, reassembled for the Proms, massed onto the stage to perform pieces by Holst and Elgar, conducted by Gareth Malone. Then followed a performance of Adrian Sutton’s War Horse Suite, during which the solitary figure of Michael Morpurgo, writer of the original book, sat at a front corner of the stage, watching an enactment of the horse Joey’s birth, his deployment to war, the ravages inflicted upon him and his survival (after all these years, surely it is no longer a secret). The adult Joey emerged for the first time from the central Promenade area and he is now even more majestic and lifelike than I remember him – one of the greatest creations of theatre. Tributes were paid to the fighters, the fallen, the roles played by women in the War effort and, most poignantly, to those executed by their own Army, including conscientious objectors and sufferers from shell shock. The performance of a hymn written in 1914 by Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms, linked the concert more closely to its theme as it moved towards its climax, an audience singalong to It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. The music, sombre yet uplifting throughout the concert, was played beautifully by the BBC Concert Orchestra, conductor David Charles Abell. A memorable occasion.
Performance date: 3 August 2014