“Don’t worry, you won’t even notice the puppeteers after a while,” one of my friends told me when I voiced my apprehension at seeing Michael Morpurgo’s beloved novel on stage without so much as a strand of real horsehair in sight.

I don’t think her sentiment was quite true. The puppeteers are absolutely the stars of the show. A team of 12 immensely talented individuals bring stars of the show Joey and Topthorn to life on a rotation during performances, with one actor at the head, another and the hind, and the third taking up the role of the heart. Working together as a team they inject such realism to the characters with such subtle movements, like the flick of an ear, or a gentle whinny, that you do genuinely forget they are simply made of metal and fabric. What you see is a living, breathing creation, full of character.

Then there is The Goose – brilliantly brought to life by Billy Irving, who so very nearly stole the show on so many occasions.

But giving them a good run for their money are Thomas Dennis as Albert Narracott who brings such warm Devonshire charm to the stage as he sets off in search of his beloved Joey on the battlefields of First World War France, and Peter Becker as the war-tormented Friedrich Müller, bringing Morpurgo’s vision of humanism on either side of No Man’s Land to the fore.

Perhaps we as a society have become desensitized to seeing humans destroying other humans, while the horrors of the trenches are well documented and understood. But there is something truly harrowing at seeing an animal with no understanding of the foibles of international politics and diplomacy suffering at the hands of the cruelty of the human hand.

Quite deservedly, the stellar cast received a standing ovation during Wednesday evening’s performance, while more than a few theatre goers wiped a tear or two away between claps.

  • War Horse is at the New Theatre, Oxford, until Saturday, January 6.