The Great War Horse

Celebrating 10 years of the National Theatre co-production with Handspring Puppet Company 

15th & 16th September 2017

Canterbury, UK

Call for papers:

In 2017, War Horse, the landmark collaboration between London’s National Theatre and South African Handspring Puppet Company celebrates its tenth anniversary and starts its second UK national tour at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. This seems an auspicious moment to examine its impact on UK theatre, particularly on the puppetry sector.

War Horse is a huge commercial and artistic success for the National Theatre. It has toured to eleven different countries, including eight years in London’s West End. Central to the show’s success are the stunning puppets of Handspring Puppet Company that have inspired a wave of interest in puppetry in the UK, and launched the careers of a generation of younger puppeteers who worked on the show.

The production was a risk, an adaptation of a children’s book for the National’s largest stage whose protagonist was a horse. The gamble paid off. War Horse was critically celebrated and became a vital cash cow for the National Theatre, helping plug a gap left by Arts Council cuts. The show hugely raised the profile of Handspring Puppet Company, propelling them into the spotlight of international theatrical acclaim, TED talks and beyond, providing the company funding to set up a wealth of social and community projects in South Africa. These include the War Horse factory, which trained people from the local townships to make puppets for the show.

However, ten years later how has the perception of puppetry in the UK changed? Whilst War Horse shone a spotlight on puppetry’s potential and ignited the careers of a few practitioners, puppetry as an art form perhaps remains in the shadows of UK theatre. Currently Arts Council England does not see puppetry as a discrete performing art, on a par with dance, opera and circus, but designates it a sub-art form of theatre. Whilst the National Theatre profited greatly from War Horse to what extent has it used that success to further puppetry as an art form? How can puppeteers better collaborate to achieve recognition for the art form and make sure the bubble of interest created by a decade of War Horse is not squandered?

On 15th and 16th September 2017 Canterbury Christ Church University in collaboration with the Marlowe Theatre and the University of Kent is hosting a two-day event to celebrate and discuss War Horse’s success. Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, Handspring Puppet Company’s artistic directors, will give a keynote talk discussing how the show has shaped and enabled their work since. Around this will be a range of workshops, industry presentations and academic panels.

We invite proposals for presentations that broadly intersect with War Horse, Handspring Puppet Company’s work and the role of puppetry in UK theatre. The conference will make use of lecture, seminar, and performance spaces to allow for a wide range of submissions to be shared.

Abstracts of 200 words should be submitted to Dr Jeremy Bidgood (jeremy.bidgood@canterbury.ac.uk) by 22nd August 2017.