For all you people who've been asking me (and members of the War Horsecast and creative team) if you can bring your kids to see the show, here's the official response: War Horse is generally appropriate for children ages 10 and above. This recommendation is based on experience gained by the National Theatre with its London production of the play. It isn't that the show is filled with adult language or plentiful nudity; it's that this is not just a story about a young man and his horse but a story about war, and battle scenes can be intense. That's the official line, which I urge most parents to follow.
But, less officially, what if you're the kind of parent like the one who sent me an email this week, after I told the parent's sister, a pal of mine, about the age-appropriate recommendation?
This mother wrote: "I understand that the 10-and-over rule should apply to most children, but my daughter, Emily, 8, isn't 'most children.' She learned to read at age 3, has been at the top of her class since she started at a prestigious private school in Manhattan at age 5, and spoke French before she spoke English. Emily abhors children's TV programs like 'iCarly' and 'Wizards of Waverly Place.' We take her with us to see all movies; her current favorite is The King's Speech. Given what I'm sure you'll agree is Emily's maturity, don't you think our bringing her to War Horse would be not only advisable but imperative?"
As I read this glowing email of Emily's accomplishments, I remembered what an old friend of mine told me when she retired as admissions counselor at prestigious private school in New England. She said she was entering medical school because she was sure that working in the E.R. of a big-city hospital would be less stressful than working as a gatekeeper at an elite private school.
So how did I answer Emily's mum? With the advice that, while the official line may be "10 and older," that there were undoubtedly exceptions, and that if she and her husband discussed the play with Emily afterwards, that I was sure that no harm could come by bringing her.
I also composed the following response, which I did not send but have been forwarding to all my theatergoing friends and family members with children, overachieving or otherwise, between the ages of 5 and 10. (I have made a firm vow not to answer parents with precocious pre-schoolers.)
"Dear Mrs. X:
"I was pleased to read about your daughter's many fine accomplishments, and have every expectation that she will grow up to be our nation's first female President, should Americans have to wait so long to catch up with the rest of the planet. You mention that Emily enjoyed The King's Speech, so I assume that she is well-versed on the historical facts of the Second World War. But War Horse takes place during the first global conflict. Is she as familiar with Asquith as she is with Roosevelt, as able to hum 'It's A Long Way To Tipperary' as she is 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy'? If so, then maybe you are right: maybe Emily is old enough to bring to the Beaumont. If not, perhaps you will wait until Emily has worked her way through the reading list I am attaching - that is, of course, if she has not already encountered all these works in the A.P. course in World History in which she is undoubtedly already enrolled.
"Whatever your decision about Emily and War Horse, I am sure it will be the wise one. The bond between human and animal, which the production treats so movingly, is bound to touch the hearts of all 8-year-olds - even those not as advanced as your dear daughter."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.