Did you know that the first thing the Handspring Puppet Company gets the puppeteers to learn is how to make the puppet breathe? That’s why, when they are on the stage the puppets are always ‘alive’. Even if they are still, they are breathing. Magical.
A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to attend a National Theatre Platform event about the making of Warhorse. The two men who founded the Handspring Puppet Company gave a talk. I had expected it to be interesting, but was amazed at the emotional punch that it packed. I left the building feeling a huge respect for their integrity as artists, for the vision that the National Theatre had to commission them, for the hard work and dedication they showed.
Today, I finally got around to visiting the exhibition at the the National Theatre about the making of Warhorse. I went with the same friend who was with me at the Platform. We’re both going to have to go back, but we need to get our skates on, as the exhibition closes 9th September.
The translation from book to stage, the work of the actors and puppeteers, the lighting, the sound crew, everyone had worked with such focus and intensity to bring about a play where the central character was a non speaking puppet. I remembered that at the Platform, Adrian Kohler saying he didn’t think Warhorse could have been developed in any other theatre than The National, and referring to the National’s Studio, a place where impossible ideas were taken seriously and made possible, where creativity and vision collided. It’s a place where an idea for a production will be explored to see if it has legs. If it doesn’t, no one is the wiser. If it does, we get things like Warhorse. I was already a big fan of the National. I can count on the thumbs of one hand plays I have seen there that have disappointed. I saw Warhorse in preview. It was far too long, and there were aching minutes when my concentration waned, but it was still clear that once they got the scissors out, this was going to be spectacular. And boy hasn’t it been.
Joey has become a character recognised throughout the world. He has taken part in the Beating the Retreat; been ridden by members of the Horseguards; attended racing events; reared on the roof of the National when the Queen went by as part of the Diamond Jubilee Flotilla.
Now I know you can’t all get to the National to enjoy the exhibition and go back, as I shall do, to listen to all the interviews I didn’t have time for today, so this might seem a bit mean. But go to this website, and even if you haven’t seen the play, this will give you some of the magic. There’s a DVD coming out about the making of Warhorse, and I think I may just have to get it.
Oh, and by the way, the exhibition is free.