IN racing terms, War Horse is the Frankel of the theatre.
Not only is it a thoroughbred champion, it is one of the greatest productions ever staged.
With the West End production of the poignant tale still doing a roaring trade in the capital, and versions opening around the world, other UK cities are now being treated to a piece of the action, remodelled but every bit as impressive as its London sibling.
The response in Southampton has been astounding with the Mayflower making the rare move of extending its capacity withstanding tickets thanks to the show’s sell-out success.
And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the touching finale was met with several rapturous curtain calls last night.
War Horse is an utterly thrilling piece of storytelling that journeys into the heart of the First World War, viewed from the perspective of the horses sent to battle.
It brings to life teenager Albert’s relentless journey to find his beloved horse Joey who has been sold to the cavalry and sent off to France to fight.
Of course Joey is no racehorse, but he’s a much-loved and well-trained farmyard hunter with special skills that make him an asset to both sides at the Somme.
This is an epic piece – poignant, powerful and perfectly staged – which remains beautifully true to Michael Morpurgo’s novel.
To the sounds of stirring folk songs, it has a resonance and a humility rarely matched and is ever more meaningful as the centenary of the breakout of the First World War approaches.
A talented band of actors of course play second fiddle to the ingenious puppetry that sees Joey and his pals snort, rear, charge, breathe and convince you entirely that they are living things in battle scenes that depict the true horrors of war.
The historical figures – nearly a million horses killed, as many as men – are as heart-rending as the box office data is impressive.
And the tale of one horse, caught on the wire of no man’s land, is the best possible way to bring the story to life.
Quite simply, War Horse has a thundering pedigree unlikely to ever be equalled.
War Horse runs until Saturday, March 15 with standing room only for most performances. Ring 023 8071 1811 or log on to mayflower.org.uk.