The Handspring Puppet Company is a puppetry performance and design company established in 1981 by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the company provides an artistic home and professional base for a core group of performers, designers, theatre artists and technicians. Handspring’s work has been presented in more than 30 countries around the world.
The Handspring Puppet Company achieved critical acclaim when War Horse premiered in South Bank, London, on 17 October 2007. For this show, Kohler and Jones worked with directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris and choreographer Toby Sedgwick to design and construct life-sized horse puppets, controlled by three actors – two to operate the legs and one to control the head and neck, with all three actors providing a variety of sound effects. (from Company website - link is pasted below)
''War horse puppets are made from a cane frame and stretched fabric, they weigh 66lbs each and are a tough assignment for the three puppeteers working inside them.
The two working towards the back of each frame carry its weight and simulate the basic movements of a horse using levers that make the knees bend or the legs walk.
The puppeteer nearest the front leads the horse, controlling its head with a rod and using levers to operate the ears.''
The movement of these puppets is eerily lifelike, the juxtaposition of latticework construction and puppeteers appearing incongruous against the dazzling realism of movement. Ten horses were made for the production in total, one of which, the mother of the foal, had to be cut when the storyline was tightened. “It was a shame the mare had to go,” says Kohler, “she had beautiful hip movements! Nonetheless, it was amazing to watch the directors working during the final weeks of production. They made some fairly ruthless cuts to the story line to bring a three-and-a-halfhour
show down to two-and- -half-hours, which streamlined the storytelling beautifully. It was like watching sculptors work.”
Team of creative personnel:
Puppet Design, Fabrication & Direction: Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company
Adrian Kohler: Artistic Director & Puppet Designer
Thys Stander: Chief Cane Sculptor
James Dee: Factory Manager & Mech. Engineer
Jessica Mias – Jones: Asst Factory Manager & Puppet Maker
Simon Dunkley: Puppet Engineer
Andy Jones:Puppet Engineer & Supervisor
Phyllis Midlane: Fabric Engineer
Peter Collard: Puppet Maker
Ncedile Daki: Puppet Builder & Assistant Engineer
Kyle Daniels: Puppet Builder
Johannes De Lange: Puppet Builder
Luyanda Nogodlwana: Puppet Builder & Supervisor
Lyn Sieborger: Asst Puppet Builder
Zweli Ngcombela: Assistant Cane Sculptor
Phillip Roberts: Studio Assistant
Christiaan Johnson: Studio Assistant
Ntimpeba Epimac: Studio Assistant
Article: Engineering the movement
Photographs bellow are from the Handspring Puppet Company book (online version)