First published on 25 Jul 2012. Updated on 5 Dec 2012.
Finn, we’re all very excited about War Horse, of course. But when you puppeteered in the show you were in control of another character… Tell us about War Goose.
The goose is great fun. She definitely became a comedy character. She’s very keen to get inside the house and she doesn’t like the father of the family so she has aggressive tendencies towards him… She provides a lot of the laughs in the first half.
So we might see a War Goose spin-off at some point?
That’s a long-running cast joke. Everyone gets very frustrated with the goose because she upstages people. There’s been definite talk of War Goose over the years.
For those of us who missed the 1982 book and 2011 Spielberg film, what’s the show about?
The story is about a boy, Albert, and his horse, Joey. It’s really a love story about that bond and how the war takes away that bond.
It sounds like it’s a sad animal play. Are we going to cry?
Yes! You very quickly believe that the puppets are real. The company who designed the puppets started with the anatomy of a horse so the movements are physiologically accurate. Then we train the puppeteers to think like horses!
I know it sounds mad but its just like any actor needs to understand the part to play it realistically. Horses think very differently from humans. For instance, they’re flight animals – they get into a conflict and what they want to do is run away. This has to inform how the puppets move in the big fight scene.
So are you a puppet horse whisperer?
Well I’m the puppeteer whisperer! I will audition and train the new puppeteers for the Australian production of War Horse.
Are there lots of puppeteers coming to audition for you?
There’s nothing that can prepare you for the job. We look at everyone from actors to people with circus skills, but the most essential skill is that they can act. Joey doesn’t talk. He isn’t a horse representing a human being, he really is a horse. He has to carry your attention and tell a story for more than two hours so the puppeteers need to have a real sense of the narrative.
The horse, Joey, is operated by three people: two in the body, one controlling the head. It looks like an incredibly complex operation.
Learning to operate any of those three-person-operated puppets, whether they’re horses or other three person-operated puppets, becomes incredibly intimate. There’s no talking at all. They breathe together and through breathing together and through an immense amount of rehearsal together, they can move and think as one without needing to verbalise.
Is there something about us humans’ relationship with horses that makes War Horse resonate particularly strongly?
Horses have been part of our lives for thousands and thousands of years. Although we anthropomorphise, we put a lot of human emotion on them, I think we have also learned to live in synch to some degree. There’s something incredibly calming about just being around horses. There’s just a warmth and a bond there that you can’t experience anywhere else.
There’s also a purity of emotion that comes through when you’re working with puppets, isn’t there?
I think it has to do with the amount of work you’re asking the audience to do; it’s subliminal effort. Although people will swear blind that the puppets really look like horses, the design is really quite abstract. We’re leaving a lot of room for the audience to do work. Once they start doing that work they feel that they have created the character, therefore they feel responsible for it so when it hurts or when it succeeds; they feel the joy or pain much more acutely. You’re generating something together and sharing the experience of something.
When I first saw the horses I had the most incredible reaction, an electric sensation up and down my spine. I saw these horses interacting with human beings, reacting to shadows and I knew I had to do this show. Something magical happens on stage; its amazing to be part of.