War Horse is currently playing in London’s West End, and is tentatively scheduled to open in New York in 2011. In “Making Horses Gallop and Audiences Cry“, Patrick Healy gives more in-depth information about the show and the amazing puppets, designed by Adrian Kohler:
The basic construction material for the horses is cane, which Mr. Kohler soaked to make it more moldable. “It is light, flexible, and the figure increases in strength as more and more struts are bound together,” he said. The struts create the look of joints in the horses’ legs and necks.
Silk patches were then applied to gauze to suggest the animals’ skin patterns and also partly to conceal the two puppeteers inside each adult horse.
The article also has a great number of photographs showing the puppets.
The puppets were constructed by the Handspring Puppet Company, a South African puppet group. It was founded in 1981 by Basil Jones and Mr. Kohler. On the website, they give a little more information about the horse puppets:
Some of the horses are fully articulated with two interior and one exterior manipulator and because they have aluminium spinal structures, they can carry human riders. Other horses are more abstract with no legs and only one manipulator.
The horses are based on the designs first used in Handspring’s production of Tall Horse, about a giraffe. Elsewhere on their website, they describe this puppet:
The puppet was constructed from a frame of carbon fibre rods and takes two puppeteers, on stilts, to operate it. The puppet is fully mechanical – its head, ears and tail can be manipulated by the puppeteers, through a complex system that allows the puppeteers, inside the body frame of the giraffe, to manipulate the appendages through bicycle brake cables.
The giraffe can turn its head, flap its ears and tail and walk with the swaying, graceful gait that anyone who has enjoyed the sight of the magnificent creature in the wild will recognise. Manned by two puppeteers on stilts, the giraffe is the central character of Tall Horse, which is a magical tale of the discovery of Europe by Africans.
If you are interested in learning more, Handspring has a few books out. Journey of the Tall Horse: A Story of African Theatre describes the production process for Tall Horse, while The Horse’s Mouth: Staging Morpurgo’s War House gives an in-depth look at the current production of War Horse. Until then, I’m looking forward to 2011!