The moves make the… horse.

Anyone who ever doubted the importance of movement in the portrayal of character never saw good puppetry.

A staging of The War Horse on London’s West End definitely highlights this:

News Story—i—war-horse–lets-four-legged-friends-lead-wartime-drama

Okay, so the legs aren’t perfect, but the heads are great. The bunraku style visible puppeteers and visible framework on the horse make it obvious that what sells this isn’t the static visuals… it’s the movement.

This is not something completely new to London’s theatre scene; I wish I could still find that rehearsal video I saw of the Panzerbjorn armored polar bears staging the fight in the National Theatre’s production of His Dark Materials a few years back.

As an aspiring theatre movement professional, this caliber of puppetry has always interested me. I love playing with puppets, provided they allow for enough emotive movement. Finger puppets I have no interest in, and something where you just make the mouth flap doesn’t do it for me… but make the face flexible so you can do more with it, and I’m hooked. There’s a reason that one of my daughter’s best friends for a little while (sometimes better than Daddy) was Mousey – although Mousey (a Folkmanis puppet) tends to work better when I’m not trying to video him at the same time.

I see puppetry as something on a continuum these days, a line beginning when we first don costumes and makeup, start adding prosthetics (like in my video gig Sunday), then mask work, then various puppets added to or manipulated by the body, or mo-cap where the “puppet” part is added later, then perhaps marionette style puppetry, servo-driven mask control or remote mechanical character props (monsters, robots, etc), and I suppose the trail leads all the way into animation.


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