‘Pieces of emotional engineering’ – that’s how the founders of Handspring describe their puppets. Their magnificent puppet of a full size horse, designed for the London play War Horse, delighted the audience and made us suspend disbelief as the horse. Some fabric draped over a bent cane frame snorted, pawed the ground, and 'galloped' across the stage. Two people working under the horse, and a groom at the neck, manipulate the legs, neck, even the diaphragm to simulate breathing. War Horse is the story of a horse drafted by the army in the First World War and the young boy who signed up to follow him to France. There was a short video showing a troop of horses charging in the London production. I had War Horse already on my reading list; now the play is also on my must-see list.
In a later session, we heard from Julie Taymor, the theatre director who brought us the mesmerizing Lion King production. Her discussion of her personal career path through the theatre world was sprinkled with wonderful clips of some of her work, including Spider Man: Turn off the Dark, currently running on Broadway to resoundingly bad reviews.
For me, the highlight was reliving the rapt enjoyment I felt when I first saw Lion King. However, Taymor was somewhat overshadowed by the previous presentation about War Horse, with the actual puppet on stage.