Warhorse: World War I

Explain how the combination of two of the following elements was used in one live production that you have seen and assess their contribution to the creation of specific mood(s) and atmosphere(s) at moments: set design, lighting, sound. The live performance I have chosen to write about is ‘Warhorse’ which I saw on the 3rd February at the New London Theatre. In this essay, I am going to explain and analyse how the staging and the lighting together created the different atmospheres and moods such as fear and tension.
Throughout the play, numerous themes are illustrated such as the barbarity of war and the cruelty of man. The themes of loyalty and hope are also illustrated and portrayed. Not only did the set and lighting help portray these themes and atmospheres, they also helped making the transitions fluid and the change between the two locations were easily interweaved due to the composite set. The staging used was thrust upon stage with a circular revolve in the centre. The revolve in the centre allowed for separation of the two sections along with the outside edge.
The revolve was also used in holding frozen images when other action was taking place along the edge. The use of the no-naturalistic staging in the non-naturalistic theatre form was effective in portraying the different journeys from the likes of Joey. Even the flooring of the stage was a fundamental part of the set. The shades of grey and black gave the look of creased and uneven farmland and also the floor distinctively helped with making the trenches and war land look effective. The different appearances depended a lot on the lighting.

At one point, on the back wall, there was a projection of a page torn out from Major Nicholl’s notebook along with projections of dates. This helped the audience follow the events of the war in chronological order. The page torn was also accompanied with different pictures inspired from Paul Nash, the World War One artist. Poppies were also projected to highlight the deaths that were caused by World War One. At the back of the stage, there was a large black area. The depth of this area gave the idea of the vastness of war space and the large scale of war.
It also gave the illusion that the actors appeared from nowhere. We saw the transformation and transition of Joey from foal to adult in this black area. This moment was marked by the adult horse jumping over he foal in slow motion. Another big and memorable moment when this black area was used was when the new soldiers first arrived in France and they entered walking through the black space and into the wounded soldiers. This action was accompanied with a harsh white light which made the men look skeletal.
The revolve helped in creating different locations and atmospheres and also helped mark key moments. One example of this is the ploughing scene. The struggle of the horse was emphasised by the turning of the revolve as it gave the illusion of a far distance. When Joey got caught on the barbed wire, the revolve was elevated and raised to a higher level to emphasise it. Another example of the use of the revolve was during the enlistment scene. As the announcement of war was made, men were encouraged to sign up along with their horses.
The fun and exciting atmosphere at the funfair was highlighted by the revolvement. Flags were put up on the stage and also in the first few rows of audience. This made the audience feel involved and echoed how many people were involved in the war. There was a sense of dramatic irony as we saw the celebration of glory while one of the main themes of the play is barbarity of war. The striking, frozen image was held on the revolve and the image of triumph and glory was hugely contrasted with the action outside as Joey is being enlisted without the knowledge of Albert.
We see the father receive money and the uncle giving his son the hand-me-down knife and also we see Albert frantically search for Joey – each of these moments being marked by a spotlight. The non-naturalistic frozen image held on the revolve juxtaposed the naturalistic action and images that were performed outside of the revolve. When Joey gets caught in the barbed wire, I found this moment very moving and it was one of the key moments on the revolve. The revolve emphasises the struggle from the horse.
When Joey is ploughing for Albert, the revolve is again used to emphasise his struggle and also it gives the illusion of the long distance Joey had to plough for. The puppeteers who manipulated Joey in these scenes had the tough job of lowering his head and making all of his body parts move as if they were real. When he stumbles backwards, his legs shook and it looked very realistic. At the moment where he is stuck in the barbed wire, there is a projection of barbed wire on the back wall and this really enhanced the illusion that Joey was really stuck.
The audience were tense watching this as they really worried about whether he would be able to escape. This was also the moment when the revolve was elevated as it stressed how much pain Joey was in and the fear he would be been feeling. He was lifted higher than the trenches and this showed how much pressure the horses were under and also how much they suffered too; it wasn’t just the soldiers and their families that suffered. Joey was helped freed by the two sides of the war came together. This exemplified the unity of men. By having a composite stage, it was effective as two different scenes were allowed to take place at once.
One example of this is when Nicholls dies; men’s bodies and horses bodies were lying dead on the stage as Albert’s mother walked through in Devon; her life had not changed unlike the lives of these men. This moment illustrated how while these men and horses were fighting in the war, the families and people at home were safe at home going about as usual. When these two locations and atmospheres were combined it was really effective. At one point, in no-man’s land, black sticks were lowered from the hatches in the ceiling and they portrayed dead trees as it resembled the amount of deaths that were caused.
The trees were representations of the lack of life; this created a reminiscent mood and made the audience reflect on those that died. Paul Nash was also the inspiration behind this. Images of silhouetted men were projected; this also reflected the vast amount of soldiers that died. The lighting used was effective in illustrating the change of location as we moved from Devon to France. It also assisted the set in creating the different moods and atmospheres. The lighting used for Devon was warm and gave homely atmosphere. The audience generally received a warm sense when Devon was visited.
In comparison however, when in France, the lighting was dramatically different as it changed from cal, to quiet harsh white lights. The monochrome lighting that was constantly used in France really emphasised the gloomy and startling nature of the war. The bright lights intensified to portray key moments such as Nicholls’ death. Strobe lighting was also used to partner the repetitive gun shots. Nicholls’ death was a major key moment and was marked in numerous ways; he was thrown off Topthorne and a spotlight was focused on him as he and his horse fell in slow motion.
A green light was also used to represent the mustard gas attack. As the gas leaked towards the soldiers, the audience felt the climax as we watched it approach them. To show the transportation from Britain to Franc, blue gels were used and also a yellow glow shone on Joey and the others as it demonstrated the life within them. This contrasted hugely with the bright white lights that were used to portray the skeletal look of the men and horses at battle in France. These same bright white lights were used in representing the explosions.
Projections were also used alongside the lighting to effectively portray settings. The projection of Joey galloping freely in the open land was juxtaposed with the lack of freedom he got while at war. There was a projection of a tank during the scene where Joey is on stage with a huge tank. This was to done to portray the intimidation Joey must have felt as it was man vs. machine. As I have previously mentioned, the projection of Nicholls’ notebook created a sincere atmosphere for the audience as they reflect on the reason why Albert has gone to war; to find his horse.
The only projection that was not in black and white were the poppies; this represented the bloodshed caused and again, the audience were left with a solemn and reminiscent mood. However, the colour also gave the audience the chance to reflect as the red illustrated remembrance. To conclude, I thought that through the set design and lighting of ‘Warhorse’, a variety of moods and atmospheres were successfully created. Tension, hope, remembrance were all enhanced and the audience were often left feeling reminiscent of the horrors of war.

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