U.K.'s Victoria and Albert Museum Acquires Original Joey Puppet from National Theatre's War Horse

By Mark Shenton
17 Oct 2013

The original puppet horse of Joey from the West End production of War Horse has been acquired by the U.K.'s Victoria and Albert Museum, who will put it on display in the V&A's Theatre and Performance Galleries beginning Oct. 18 in a specially created display to show how the life-size puppet is operated onstage.



Joey has been donated to the V&A by Handspring's Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, who designed and fabricated the puppets used in War Horse. The horse puppet acquired by the V&A made his stage debut at the New London Theatre on March 28, 2009, and subsequently performed in over 1,640 shows; during that time he was operated by over 20 puppeteers.

In the display, three mannequin puppeteers in costumes designed by Olivier Award-winning theatre designer and illustrator Rae Smith will be displayed with Joey and accompanied by a newly produced behind-the-scenes interactive video display created by 59 Productions.

Onstage, Joey is operated by three puppeteers; the Head, the Heart and the Hind, who work together to create the character and noises of the horse. Using the Japanese Bunraku "exposed" style of puppetry, the manipulators can be seen onstage as they articulate the limbs of the horse and communicate its emotions and breathing with life-like accuracy. The puppet is made primarily of cane, leather and Tyvec (synthetic fibre), and its spine is reinforced with aluminum to allow for a rider on top. It takes eight months to build a complete set of puppets for War Horse, all of which are handmade in Cape Town, South Africa, by 14 craftsmen and women.

In a press statement, Martin Roth, director of the V&A said: "War Horse is undoubtedly one of the most memorable theatre productions of the 21st century and is an example of one the most spectacular and captivating set designs in the theatre industry. We are thrilled to acquire the original horse puppet for the V&A's Theatre and Performance collection. Joey demonstrates the skill and ingenuity of the Handspring Puppet Company in creating a remarkably life-like puppet which audiences across the world connect and empathise with throughout the performance."

Kohler and Jones, puppetry directors of War Horse added, "Ever since we first started visiting the V&A in our late teens, it has been a source of inspiration to us as artists. How wonderful that something Handspring has created will now become a source of inspiration for a new generation. We are delighted and feel hugely honored that Joey will have a permanent home in this great institution."

Admission to the V&A's Theatre and Performance galleries is free. For full details and opening hours, visit www.vam.ac.uk.