War Horse is an extraordinary, emotionally exhausting piece of theatre that embodies both the essence of the equine and the futility of war.

The narrative boldly recounts the universal suffering that the First World War inflicted on men, women, children and the unsung heroes of the war effort – the horses. Ten million people died in the First World War, along with unknown millions of horses. In the carnage of the French battlefields, the 1914 – 1918 conflict proved to be a horrific experience on both sides of the frontline. Quite simply, there were no winners.

Former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo was inspired to write War Horse after seeing an old painting of a cavalry charge and realising that by describing the experience of the war through the eyes of a horse he could convey the plight of both British and German soldiers.

Noble steed Joey – who is half thoroughbred, half working farm horse – sees the best and worst of humanity throughout the deadly chaos of the First World War. His eventful life begins as a foal on a farm in Devon, where he is lovingly tamed and trained by his young master Albert Narracott.

Devastatingly, the pair are forcibly separated when war is declared as Joey is sold to the Army and shipped off to France. Here, he serves as a British officer’s charger and, after being captured, on the German side. Unable to bear being parted from his cherished companion, Albert lies about his age and enlists with the intention of bringing Joey home. After inspiring everyone he meets, Joey is found wandering and wounded in no man’s land where the story reaches its emotional climax.

 

 

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For a romantic musical that will sweep you off your feet without forcing you to wallow in too much mushy sentiment theatregoers need look no further than An Officer and a Gentleman.

The classic 1982 film has been rebooted as a pacey jukebox musical that is simultaneously corny and gritty. Lifting audience members up with exuberant performances of more than twenty chart hits from the Eighties, the simple story follows the exploits of bad boy US naval officer trainee Zack Mayo and his “will they, won’t they” relationship with local factory girl Paula Pokrifki.

While the narrative is a little slow to really take off, this lightweight chick flick exploration of how ordinary people endeavour to escape deep-rooted inner demons and daily drudgery undoubtedly benefits from being paired with punchy period pop music. A score consisting of such a wide selection of half-decent tunes is surely guaranteed to have spectators of all ages tapping their feet in recognition and readily engaging with the characters’ experiences. It certainly worked for me and I am not familiar with the Oscar-winning movie at all!

 

 

 

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Chick flick romcom Legally Blonde makes for a feel-good musical that is as sparkling as pink champagne.

The 2001 American film, based on the novel by Amanda Brown and starring Reese Witherspoon, sees protagonist Elle Woods prove that one can never be overdressed or overeducated.

Pretty, popular and passionate about pink, fashion marketing student Elle is devastated when her boyfriend Warner Huntington III breaks up with her, declaring that he needs a more serious sweetheart befitting of the future he has planned. Elle is determined to win him back, so she shuns sorority parties, starts swotting and successfully bags herself a place to study alongside Warner at the prestigious Harvard Law School. Accompanied by her cute chihuahua, Bruiser, Elle remains unabashedly herself in her new surroundings. Pink princess and legal eagle, she essentially ends up falling in love with her own untapped potential.

 

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Northern Ballet’s take on The Little Mermaid is so immersive and beautiful that coming up for air during the interval is quite an abrupt reality check.

The return to dry land takes some getting used to because this absorbing and atmospheric two-act ballet sees theatregoers dive into the depths of a mesmerising tale following curious young mermaid Marilla. She lives in a mystical underwater world yet yearns to swim to the surface and experience the human realm. Surging waves of emotion crash over Marilla (and us!) as she falls hopelessly in love with a human prince, subsequently sacrificing her voice and life in the ocean for legs and an opportunity to be where the people are…

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s original 1837 fairy tale, rather than the Disney retelling, Northern Ballet’s The Little Mermaid is choreographed by the company’s artistic director, David Nixon. It premiered in September 2017 at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre and was one of a hat-trick of new productions created last year for Northern Ballet – the other two being Casanova and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The Little Mermaid’s current visit to Milton Keynes Theatre is occurring at the tail-end of the world premiere tour (it swims off to Leicester next for its final run of performances) but will undoubtedly remain a firm favourite in the company’s repertoire, hopefully to be periodically revived.

 

 

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Matthew Bourne’s radical Cinderella is a cinematic wartime romance that memorably captures the glitz in the Blitz to illuminate the power of true love.

The popular choreographer’s dance theatre troupe, New Adventures, is making its annual visit to Milton Keynes Theatre this week with a revival of the 2010 reworking of his original 1997 production. There were standing ovations on opening night, so audiences are still lapping up this fanciful tale of love and conflict.

Set in the capital during the darkest days of the Second World War, Bourne’s Cinderella sees ordinary Londoners navigating both affairs of the heart and the terror of nightly air raids.

 

 

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