War Horse star appears at Festival

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Joey the war horse has been amazing audiences with his haunting performance for years, and now South Africans will get to meet the larger-than-life puppet made of cane at this year’s Festival as part of a series of exhibits featuring Handspring Puppet Company’s fascinating creations.

Joey at the National Arts Festival is on show this year as part of a series of exhibitions highlighting the work of Handspring, designers of the naturalistic cane horse and winners of a special Tony Award for puppetry and design for War Horse, which is touring South Africa from October to December.

Handspring Puppet Company’s Joey the War Horse makes an appearance with puppeteer Samkelo Zihlangu at the Drostdy Lawns in Grahamstown. Joey stars in the multi-award winning British National Theatre production of War Horse. Photo: CuePix/Harold Gess
Handspring Puppet Company’s Joey the War Horse makes an appearance with puppeteer Samkelo Zihlangu at the Drostdy
Lawns in Grahamstown. Joey stars in the multi-award winning British National Theatre production of War Horse.
Photo: CuePix/Harold Gess

More than 50 Handspring puppets will be on show in the Fabricate exhibit, the most comprehensive exhibition of Handspring’s work to date.

The puppets also take the stage in Ubu and the Truth Commission, in collaboration with artist William Kentridge.

“It can take two weeks to create a human figure and a month for the horses,” co-founder of Handspring Puppet Company, Adrian Kohler says. “Those horses take a huge amount of labour to create, they cost about as much as a luxury car.”

A puppet similar to those in Ubu ranges in price from R5000 to 15000.

Founded in 1981 by Kohler and Basil Jones, Handspring initially produced puppets for children’s theatre. Then in 1985 they produced an adult play, Episodes of an Easter Rising, which showed at Festival that year.

Kohler said that Festival affirmed the risk they had taken in creating for adult productions. “The response we received was amazing,” he said of their 1985 debut. Audiences are still amazed.

– Wynona Latham 

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