Where do old War Horse puppets go when they’ve served their time and their creaking limbs aren’t up to performing anymore? The V&A, it would seem, as the original West End Joey from the hit long-running show was unveiled at the museum this morning.
Donated by Handspring Puppet Company, the organisation that designed and manufactured the animal that has become one of the most iconic and recognisable images of the London stage since making its debut at the National Theatre in 2007, the retired Joey is now displayed in the V&A’s Theatre And Performance Galleries.
With more than 1,640 performances under his saddle, the life-sized puppet, which first took to the stage when the show transferred from the National Theatre to its current home at the New London theatre, is displayed as he would have been seen in the show, with three puppeteers working him. At the museum, however, the puppeteers are mannequins.
Speaking about the acquisition of the mammoth piece of memorabilia, which is made of cane, leather and Tyvek and reinforced with aluminium to allow it to be ridden, Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, said: “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. We are thrilled to acquire the original horse puppet for the V&A’s Theatre And Performance collection. Joey demonstrates the skill and ingenuity of the Handspring Puppet Company in creating a remarkably life-like puppet which audiences across the world connect and empathise with throughout the performance.”
Handspring’s Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones added: “Ever since we first started visiting the V&A in our late teens, it has been a source of inspiration to us as artists. 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.”
War Horse, which brings a novel by Michael Morpurgo to the stage, tells the tale of a foal who is trained against the odds by a farmer’s son before being sold to the army and shipped off to France during World War I. The farmer’s son, Albert, embarks on a mission to find his friend while the horse, Joey, experiences the war on both sides of the fighting.
After premiering in the National’s Olivier theatre in 2007, War Horse has now been seen by more than four million theatregoers across the world.