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I HAD read much and heard much about War Horse but had not seen the film or the London stage production.

So with an open mind, I went to the Lowry on a near-freezing night to meet Joey, the horse from Devon which went to do his bit in the first world war.

It was all I had wished for, all I had dreaded. And more. War Horse is almost a life-altering theatrical experience which moves many in the audience to genuine tears. They know the horses on stage are giant puppets. But in the smoke and the light, amid the gunfire and blood, guts and chaos, they are, to all intents and purposes, alive.

Fact: A million horses were sent to France. Just 62,000 came home. War Horse is the story of just one – Joey.

The play with music (it’s not a musical) is an all enveloping experience, and, for me, it’s the play of the decade. At times funny, always critically painful, WarHorse is movingly powerful and always totally riveting.

It would be too easy to think of the puppet horses being the stars of the show. No. Those rightly deserving the greatest praise are the puppeteers who make the life-like frames spark to living, breathing life.

In War Horse, we are witnesses to a speck of history but in reality, the whole story of the first world war is there, played out by a superb cast, some members playing a multiple of roles.

After being immersed in the blood and guts and the pain and suffering, the war horse – one of the lucky ones – arrives home, with his wounded owner, who enlisted underage to hunt or his equine pet.

Little wonder that this thought-provoking, mesmerising show is now playing all over the world.

It’s showing at The Lowry until mid January.