So, the puppets. In War Horse, the puppets were horses, a goose, and several crows, plus some bats. The birds were on long poles, with operating wings; at first you thought it was young guys playing with toys. The goose was on wheels, and the operator also used poles & pulleys to make it do the things that geese do. For the horses, there were 3 or 4 operators per horse, two inside for the four legs, and the others outside on either end.
These horse puppets were so amazing! Built by the Handspring Puppet Company in Africa, with levers, pulleys, springs, etc. to give them life. It seemed weird at first, because all the operators are almost totally visible, but you soon get used to it–of course, they are dressed to blend in, in period costume, and you might think the outside guys are just workers looking after the horses. Apparently it takes about 10 weeks to learn to operate the horses. The mouths don’t move (did you realize of how little importance that is, for horsey-expression?) But the ears are very expressive, as well as the tail. One could assume that they would use recorded horse-noises, but no way–the puppeteers themselves make all the neighing & blowing that horses do.
As we learned in our stage tour, the parts do often break, but the audience doesn’t notice; and as soon as the horse is backstage, the part gets exchanged–in 90 seconds flat!
The other ingenious thing I wanted to tell you about, is something that wasn’t clear to me until it was explained in the stage tour. It may have been clear to Rej & Sam though, as the describers closely view everything before writing the description-script, and they begin several minutes before the play–describing the props, costume, etc.
As the story begins, a British captain is watching things and sketching them in his sketch book–specifically the main horse of the story, and the young boy who rides and trains him. The boy, Albert, doesn’t meet the captain until later…. and even later in the story (trying not to give too much of it away here), tears out a section of the sketch book. That torn-out section is the same shape as a screen hanging on the stage near the back, on which a video is being shown throughout the play–a video that is all sketch-work. The sketches are village scenes, and of course lots of horse-galloping scenes… one time it was showing a couple of horses caught in the barbed wire, which helped me understand what was happening in the story.
And that brings me to one more thing I want to talk about, from the play–the background to the story. Another post!
(OK, time to get back to memory verses… “O Lord, you are my light; yes, Lord, you light up my darkness.” 2 Samuel 22:29)