I had not read the book nor seen the film before the show but did know that the performance would be rather special. Everyone I spoke to previously thoroughly recommended it and assured me that I would cry. I will now do the same to others.
Michael Morpurgo sets up the relationship between the horse (Joey) and Albert and the audience very well - indeed it is the young horse which lies at the centre of the play and at the centre of our sympathy. Morpurgo employs that great literary tradition of 'Hubris' to provide the stimulus for our attachment to Joey as the young foal is both won and lost because of the behaviour and attitude Albert's father - all of which is understandable and readily accepted by the audience. The result is that Albert's father sells the horse to the cavalry and Joey is shipped off to help with the fighting during the First World War.
The growing horse is an amazing, powerful and dominant figure on stage. Each horse is controlled by three people and little attempt is made to hide these figures as they move the metal apparatus, that make up the horse, around the stage. Director of movement and horse choreography, Toby Sedgwick has created an effect that allows us to immerse ourselves completely in accepting that we see a horse on stage, even though we still see the three controllers. This is achieved by minutiae of movement and sound: each person constantly reproduces the suggestion of being a horse - slight flicks of the tails, an almost inaudible snorting, the twitching of an ear and so on. One can even see the contorted faces of the controllers underneath the cage illustrating how closely they have adopted their roles.
Add to this the emotional wrenching that is driven by the plot and you can see why this show is loved by all.