WAR HORSE Press Launch
Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 14th January, 2013
I saw the West End production of this marvellous show not long back and today I had the chance to get up close but not personal with the star of the piece, Joey the titular war horse.
It was a strange moment. There I was, in the Hippodrome’s bar, sitting among journalists and bloggers and what-have-you. We had been welcomed by Stuart Griffiths, the Hippodrome’s chief executive, and we had seen a stirring video, a trailer for the touring show. We were being addressed by Toby Olié, associate puppetry director, when in came Joey, trotting happily to meet us.
Joey is a puppet. There is no denying it. You can see the puppeteers. You can see the cane and aluminium framework he is made of. But he is life-sized. He moves and behaves like a real horse. He breathes! In fact he does everything but blink and poo on the carpet. It is astonishing to behold. The artistry of the puppeteers makes him life-like and naturalistic. Given that the show is built around a puppet as its central character, something very special is required, if the audience is to have an emotional investment in the story. This isn’t Punch & Judy, Sooty and Sweep, or even The Muppet Show.
Toby explained how Joey was constructed by South African outfit, Handspring Puppet Company, and how the three puppeteers share physical and emotional aspects of Joey’s performance. One operates the head, the second the heart, and the third the hind. It turns out you can be a professional horse’s ass without being a member of the cabinet.
We followed Joey outside for a photo-opportunity. Passersby marvelled at him as he – well, I won’t say posed. There is nothing anthropomorphic about Joey. He behaves as an equine should.
Having seen the show, it was a treat to get to see the puppet up close and to learn about what goes into his operation. Not only is the form of the show remarkable, the content is also powerful stuff. There is a reason why it’s now in its sixth year.
It is encouraging to see shows of this magnitude touring the country, and indeed other countries. You don’t have to go down to London to see everything.
War Horse comes to Birmingham in October. You can check out where else it’s playing here. I can’t wait to see it again. It delivers an experience that Spielberg’s film version doesn’t quite manage to pull off.