A few weeks ago, my family and I went to see the play War Horse at Lincoln Center here in New York City. The play, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, was recently adapted into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. The play has approximately a dozen cast members and a handful of unbelievable constructed puppets. After seeing these puppets, I had to learn more...
These puppets were built by the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town, South Africa. It takes 10 months for 10 people to make the 9 puppets in the show - all are made in the style of old-fashioned screw-and-joint puppetry.
Each horse is operated by three actor/puppeteers; two that spend the majority of the show under the frame of the horse controlling the legs, hooves and tail. When an actor has mounted the horse, the puppeteers have to hold upwards of 200 lbs on their backs. A third puppeteer leads the horse and controls the movements of the head - even down to the slightest ear flick.
The frames are made using a cane sculpture technique and various materials - plywood, foam rubber, and "skin" made out of a thin nylon stretch material that enables the puppeteer to see.
An image of the crow puppet, also in War Horse. Image Courtesy David Krut Publishing, Johannesburg/New York.
The movements of the horses are so real and the story so moving, you'll be brought to tears. (Guilty! Seriously!)
Click here for a great interview with the Director of Movement and Horse Sequences, Toby Sedgwick. Click here to purchase a beautiful book on the Handspring Puppet Company, and here to buy tickets for War Horse.
Additional images courtesy of The New York Times.