V&A acquires the original Joey puppet from the National Theatre’s West End stage production of War Horse

October 17, 2013

EDIT: Please note that from 22 September 2014 Joey will be on loan to Lightbox Gallery in Woking for their exhibition The Horse at War: 1914 – 1918

We are delighted to announce that Handspring Puppet Company have donated Joey, the original West End puppet from War Horse, the National Theatre’s award-winning stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel.

Joey. Nicholas Hart (Head), Stuart Angell (Heart), Thomas Goodridge (Hind). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Joey in the V&A John Madejski Garden, Nicholas Hart (Head), Stuart Angell (Heart), Thomas Goodridge (Hind). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

War Horse tells the story of a young boy Albert, and his beloved horse Joey, who has been requisitioned by the army to fight in World War I. Caught in enemy crossfire, Joey ends up serving on both sides during the war before landing in No Man’s Land, while Albert, not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home. War Horse, which continues its run at the New London Theatre, has been seen by over 4 million people worldwide and features ground-breaking puppetry by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, which brings breathing and galloping horses to life on stage.

On stage, 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 on stage 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 aluminium 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. The horse puppet acquired by the V&A made his stage debut at the New London Theatre on Saturday 28 March 2009, and subsequently performed in over 1,640 shows. During that time he was operated by over 20 puppeteers.

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Joey has been donated to the V&A by Handspring’s Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones who designed and fabricated the puppets in War Horse. He will go into the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries from 18 October 2013 in a specially created display showing how the life-size puppet is operated on stage. 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.

5 comments so far, view or add yours


I saw the war horse production in Sydney, it did not take long to just see Joey and no puppeteers, magnificent, if I ever get back to London I will come visit Joey.

What good news to hear that Joey is having a secure and special resting place – and to remember, thro` him, the many many horses who didn`t have that good luck in World War One -and yet did so much in their own way for future
generations of humanity.

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