NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

October 12, 2012

'War Horse' comes to Boston

Many things are possible in the world of theater — though having 10 or so horses on or back stage really isn’t one of them, even on Broadway.

So when the creators of “War Horse” first staged the show in London, they decided to bring the audiences the next best thing — lifelike horse puppets that can gallop and charge on stage. Each is controlled by three people and can carry an actor around on stage (as long as said actor is good at balancing.)

Local audiences will be able to see for themselves how realistic these “thoroughbreds” are, with “War Horse” now playing Boston’s Opera House for the first time. Set in World War I, the story focuses on a boy so devoted to his horse, that he heads to war to find him. The show — the winner of five 2011 Tony awards — will be here through Oct. 21.

One of the creators of these amazing puppets is Handspring Puppet founder Adrian Kohler. In an interview from Atlanta, as he was tweaking the show, Kohler said the design and execution of the intricate puppets took several years to perfect.

It started with the study of real horses, and moved on to the logistics of creating a puppet that was maneuverable yet able to carry the weight of an actor. The puppets featured in “War Horse” take great care to breathe, wiggle their ears and stomp like a real horse. Kohler said this is the first time such elaborate puppets have been used on stage.

“The theater is a place where you imagine things into being,” he explained.

The study of horses and endless prototypes eventually paid off for Kohler and Handspring cofounder Basil Jones — the two won a special Tony for their work in the show.

“We keep it in the middle of our meeting table in Cape Town,” said Kohler, whose company is based in South Africa.

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