V&A acquires War Horse puppet Joey for new display

By Sarah Jackson | 22 October 2013

The V&A has acquired the original West End horse puppet from the National Theatre’s award-winning stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel War Horse.

War Horse puppet Joey takes a drink in a fountain.
© Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum
Joey was donated by Handspring Puppets’ Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, who designed and built the horse puppets used in War Horse. The puppet donated to the V&A made his stage debut at the New London Theatre on Saturday March 29 2009, going on to perform in more than 1,640 shows.

“Ever since we first started visiting the V&A in our late teens, it has been a source of inspiration to us as artists," say Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, the Puppetry Directors of War Horse.

"How wonderful that something Handspring has created will now become a source of inspiration for a new generation.

“We are delighted and feel hugely honoured that Joey will have a permanent home in this great institution.”

The stage version of the story of a young boy and his beloved horse caught up in the horrors of First World War trench warfare has been seen by more than four million people worldwide.

From October 18 2013, a specially-created display in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries will show how the life-size puppet is operated on stage.

Three puppeteers – the Head, the Heart and the Hind – work together to give Joey life, breath and noise. Using the Japanese Bunraku (‘exposed’) style, the puppeteers can be seen on stage as they manipulate the horse and communicate its emotions with astonishing accuracy.

Their costumes, designed by Olivier award-winning theatre designer and illustrator Rae Smith, will also be displayed along with a newly produced behind-the-scenes interactive created by 59 Productions.

Joey himself is made primarily of cane, leather and Tyvec (a synthetic fabric that is highly breathable and extremely strong). Aluminium is used to reinforce his spine to allow for a rider on top.

“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," said Martin Roth, the Director of the V&A.

“We are thrilled to acquire the original horse puppet for the V&A’s Theatre and Performance collection.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More pictures:

Three pupeteers manipulate Joey, a lifesize horse puppet.
© Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum
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