Today the folk at Kingsmead College were privileged to experience a visit from Joey, the star of hit stage production, War Horse. They’re doing a fundraiser at the show on 1st November, and to build up excitement, Joey came to visit.
Initially, I though, meh! Another one of those stage productions that I find overrated. Then I remembered when I was last in London, and it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. My friends and I were recovering from a particularly crazy 40th birthday party, so we watched the old duck floating down the Thames from the safety of the couch. The most impressive part of the whole palaver for me was the War Horse demonstration over the National Theatre as she passed.
My daughter read the book. I tried, but found it a little tedious, but my daughter was enthralled. I think we watched the film. But today I was captivated by the sight of Joey, the horse. The amazing thing is that once the puppeteers are in character, they are absolutely and totally committed to being in character. Those puppeteers become the horse.
I was delighted to learn that the first commission to make horses for the production was given to the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town, South Africa. There are now a number of productions, and as many as 82 horse puppets in existence around the world. Each apparently weighs about 55 kilograms, which is spread between the three puppeteers. One controls the head, one the heart of the horse, and one the butt. The actors communicate mostly through breathing and horse noises. They spend at least two weeks learning about horses and their movements and emotions and mannerisms, but the actors say that they are always learning more about horses.
The result it magical and amazing! Joey was as real as any horse I’ve ever come across. The children were captivated, and Joey kept them entertained and even a little startled, when he reacted exactly as a horse would do. These men have captured the essence of a horse and every movement and every sound is absolutely convincing.
I’m not sure I’m going to be able to afford to take my children to the production of War Horse, but I’m definitely going to try my best. I can happily say that for someone who isn’t a fan of popular productions, I’m already a converted fan of this one.