War Horse has proved it’s a beast to be reckoned with

War Horse - Photographer David Wyatt
Joey, the War Horse and his three puppeteers. Image by David Wyatt

Hold onto your hides everyone, War Horse is coming to the Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre. Opening in Australia New Year’s Eve – December the 31 2012 – and having won 18 awards overseas including two Laurence Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards, it promises to be a show to be reckoned with.

The National Theatre of Great Britain (where War Horse was created) and Global Creatures (of How to Train Your Dragon fame) present War Horse in association with The Arts Centre Melbourne (you know where that is). We were blessed at the Media Launch to get up close and personal with star of the show, Joey the horse puppet.

Associate Puppetry Director Finn Caldwell spoke passionately about the artistry behind Joey’s construction.

“We were just making the size and shape of these puppets with some cardboard and some paper” he explained.

“Really quickly we began to realise the necessary scale of this project. We needed to make a puppet that could hold the attention of the audience for two plus hours.”

Since Joey is the central character in the story, it was imperative he was an extraordinary puppet

War Horse - Photographer David Wyatt
Joey and the 'Head' puppeteer. Image by David Wyatt

“[Joey] has got to be alive and interested in things all of the time so we came up with this idea of the third puppeteer… outside the horse operating the head, which allowed him suddenly to be alive all of the time… With the arrival of this third puppeteer we suddenly thought; Wow, OK, maybe we’ve got a show on our hands!”

It is important to mention Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of Handspring Puppet Company, the South African Puppeteers who created Joey and the other eighteen puppets in Warhorse. After witnessing Joey in action, they demand a deep respect, having created a truly detailed and majestic animal.

Caldwell spoke of not only the muscularity behind the design but also of the life force and emotions behind the movements Joey could make. The three puppeteers (aptly named ‘Head’ ‘Heart’ and ‘Hind’) each have a technical task which gives Joey emotional indicators.

“So, the Head puppeteer there, his technical task; he’s got to look after the eye line of the horse. We as humans are really fine observers of eyeline. We can really tell where another human or another animal is looking and that eye line tells us what the animal or person is thinking about”, said Caldwell.

He made clear that his ears were for ‘hearing’ but also for showing how alert, docile or fearful he felt. Throughout the media launch Joey appeared to be breathing, making it very easy to forget he was not a living beast.

War Horse, originally a book my Michael Morpurgo, was adapted to the play it is today by Nick Stafford in association with the National Theatre. It tells a tale of World War One from both sides of the fight through the eyes of the neutral character of Joey the Horse. It is a story about a boy’s love for a horse, a town at war, a mother’s love for her son and of comrades in arms. With ANZAC day approaching, Australia knows the heart of this story.

Auditions for the Australian cast commence this weekend with Director Drew Barr and Associate Puppetry Director Finn Caldwell.

Tickets go on sale Monday April 23rd so I suggest you trot down to the Arts Centre or your local Ticketmaster and book yourself a seat.

Get ready for the ride of your life (and bring tissues).

Emily Paddon-Brown

Emily trained at NASDA prior to gaining a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theatre from WAAPA. After graduating she debuted in Guys & Dolls where she had the blessing to understudy the role of Sarah Brown played by Lisa McCune. Emily then travelled to Korea with Jekyll & Hyde understudying the lead role Emma and Lady Beaconsfield. On screen Emily has been a lead in the feature films Only the Young Die Good and The Last of the Living. She has also acted in many short and corporate films including The Melbourne Appreciation Society. Emily has also worked as a producer, director, choreographer, teacher, stage manager and dance captain. For more info visit www.emilypaddonbrown.com

Emily Paddon-Brown

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