Roll Call: Joey the War Horse

Programme Notes: CTMT 2015

“Handspring Puppet Company was founded in 1981 and during the past 30 years it has grown under the leadership of artistic director Adrian Kohler and executive producer Basil Jones.  Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Janni Younge joined the company in 2011, acting as its director until 2014. Widely recognised as South Africa’s pre-eminent puppet theatre company,  and as one of the most important in the world, Handspring has created puppets for more than 16 theatrical productions, including the runaway hit War Horse, produced by the National Theatre in London. The production has won many awards internationally, including a Special Tony Award for Handspring in 2011. Seven versions of War Horse have been produced, four of which are in continuous performance. The show has been seen by more than 4,7 million people worldwide.

Joey and Topthorn, the lead characters of War Horse, are larger-than-life, naturalistic horse puppets. Three visible puppeteers, working together with synchronised precision, breathe life into the puppets.

A team of 20 artists, specialised artists and craftspeople worked in Handspring’s studio in Cape Town for five years, producing all the horses needed for the many versions of War Horse touring around the world. Each horse is built to specific plans so that all the versions of Joey are precisely the same. The puppets are principally made of cane and plywood, with a lightweight structure of aluminium and a skin of stretched fabric. Cords, levers and bicycle brake cables are used to control different parts of the puppet.

The horses weigh in excess of 50kg, which means several teams of puppeteers work to keep the production running smoothly. The teams of puppeteers appearing here tonight were specifically trained to perform Joey live, in promoting War Horse: The Show here in South Africa. The performers, who were drawn from Jazzart, Magnet Theatre and UNIMA SA’s development programs, are trained in a variety of performance backgrounds, specialising in theatre, dance and puppetry.

War Horse, directed by Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott, is a moving drama, filled with stirring music and magnificent artistry. Set in World War I, Joey, young Albert Narracott’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. He embarks on a journey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no-man’s land. Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist in the army, he goes on a dangerous mission to find him and bring him home. The show is a thrilling journey through history, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo.” (CTMT 2015)