By Hilary Porter

A sure-fire winner and thoroughbred champion War Horse is back on its second UK tour astounding audiences once again.

Michael Morpurgo's children's book about a boy and his horse set against the backdrop of the First World War is the beating heart of this extraordinary show but the National Theatre have created theatre magic.

It is a heart-wrenching, harrowing tale of war and of courage, loyalty and friendship that absorbs you from the outset. It is so believable and realistic you are propelled right at the centre of the action poignantly reliving life on the battlefields and in the trenches 100 years after the end of 'the war to end all wars'.

The original story was told through the eyes of horse Joey, who is sold to a yeomanry cavalry division, shipped off to France, serves first on the British and then, after being captured, on the German sides before ending up wounded and wandering in no-man's land.His devoted young master, Albert, enlists at the age of 16 simply to find his horse and bring him home.

The show stays true the book and maybe because we experience the parallel emotions of the humans and the horses sacrificed here it feels so powerful and poignant.

The actors are brilliant but deliberately overshadowed by the spectacle and realism of Handspring Puppet Company's ingenious puppets, for Joey and Topthorn- the two main horses, breathe, snort, twitch, shake, charge and rear with such expression you forget the rotating teams of three people that are there operating them.

The choreography together with the skill, strength and dexterity of the puppeteers/actors is breath-taking.

Thomas Dennis perfectly captures the naivety, youthfulness and devotion of Albert whose innocence amid the barbarity of war is mirrored in his horse Joey.

The staging is inspired and atmospheric. A ripped page from a note book is represented by the cinematic backdrop of torn paper - a 25 metre projection screen that becomes various landscapes, serves to tell us significant historic dates, or even becomes a giant jotting paper for battle spilt blood. All this carries the story along together with a dramatic sound track of battle sounds and stirring folk songs.

An honest and dark portrayal of the reality of war, but a story of reconciliation and reunion, War Horse will leave you with at least a tear in your eye and is one of the greatest pieces of theatre we are ever likely to see.