Some people believe that everyone in Manhattan is on holiday during the second half of August, but I can assure you that is not the case at "War Horse." It would be a bit of a challenge for the story to unfold with no human actors in place. Thus the production's vacation schedule is spread throughout the year, so at any given moment only one or two actors are taking time off.
I try to imagine, however, what it would be like if all the actors were in fact on vacation right now and "War Horse" were performed without them. I have in mind a scenario in which Joey and Topthorn and Coco come to unaided life when a human presence has been removed. The ostensible inspiration for this idea is the objects-come-to-life conceit of "Toy Story," although I am thinking more of "Babes in Toyland," having grown up on that saccharine classic. (To be clear: I am not saying that the puppets in "War Horse" are toys: they are seriously designed, seriously beautiful creations.)
I say saccharine because I grew up on the 1961 Disney movie version, with Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, and Annette Funicello. The film included much of Victor Herbert's music from 1903 operetta that launched the "Babes in Toyland" franchise. It was only much later that I discovered the 1975 version, written for the Light Opera of Manhattan (LOOM) by Alice Hammerstein Mathias (the daughter of Oscar Hammerstein II) and William Mount-Burke. I loved the way the ensemble became a militia for the "March of the Toys," with children from the audience allowed onstage to wind up the toy dancers.
By now, the musical-theater scholars among you are probably objecting that in "Babes in Toyland," unlike in "Toy Story," the runaway children are allowed to witness the singing and dancing of the toys. Strange, however, that in my memory the toys only animate when the children aren't looking: it's as if my brain has missed the point of the piece.
In any case, what would occur if the "War Horse" figures gave a performance on their own, or for a couple of children in a "Nutcracker"-like dream sequence? Would Michael Morpugo's plot, as adapted by Nick Stafford, remain intact? I suspect not. I imagine that Joey and Topthorn and Coco would dispense with the plot and use the occasion to spoof the actors who manipulate them eight times a week. I can just hear Coco honking, "These actors are always grousing that working with us is such a strain on them physically. Well, at least they are in control. Imagine how we feel. We're the ones being pushed around!"
I would hope that the animals would launch such sallies with at least a modicum of affection. If their barbs are too sharp then they can never hope to launch their own version of the story: "War Horse: The Animals Talk Back." I see this as a matinee, to be given throughout the next two-week-long season in which everyone is presumed to be on holiday: Christmas.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.