War Horse – the Art of Puppetry

I watched War Horse, the movie, a few years ago and sobbed throughout the movie. Very few movies can make me cry but with War horse, it was as if my floodgates had been opened. I loved it. So when the National Theatre of London brought it’s acclaimed production to Johannesburg, it was only natural that we watch it.

K’s and my wedding anniversary was close, and a little bit of theatre seemed like the perfect gift. So yesterday, we made our way to Monte Casino in Fourways and thankfully I had booked tickets in advance because the show was fully booked  – on a Tuesday evening!

After grabbing a quick dinner, it was time to head to the theatre. The show started a little after 8:00pm and it didn’t take long for the enraptured audience to completely lose themselves in the production. Set against the backdrop of World War 1, War Horse is the story of the strong bond between a young boy Albert and his horse Joey.

The horse is commissioned to fight in the war and sent off to France. The story is a powerful and moving account of Joey’s journey from the English countryside to the battlefields of France, and of Albert, who finds a way to join the army in order to find Joey. It’s an amazing tale of courage, loyalty and friendship.

But the strength of the production lies in the puppetry. The life-sized horses on stage are actually puppets; beautifully crafted and manipulated by a South Africa’s very own Handspring Puppet Company, a Cape Town based company. Each horse is worked by three puppeteers who are quite visible throughout the production. But the puppetry is so artful, that it brings the horses to life as the men blend into the background. After a while, you don’t even know they are there!

Every detail has been taken into account – horses swishing their tails from time to time, twitching their ears, snorting, hooves making contact with the ground, the sounds, the rhythm, the music – everything fits in seamlessly. It’s not easy even for seasoned actors to perform so beautifully on stage, but to get puppets to do it, is sheer genius.

The production is currently showing at the Teatro in Monte Casino and will be on till the 30th of Novermber, 2014. It moves to Artscape Opera in Cape Town, from 5 December 2014 to 4 January 2015. If you are in Joburg or Cape Town, do yourself a favour and go for it. It’s something you do not want to miss.

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