(image credit: Brinkhoff Mögenburg)

Conference: 15th and 16th September 2017

To register for the conference, please follow this link.

This week, the School of Music and Performing Arts at 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.

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 Nation’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?

Credit: The National Theatre


Friday 15th September 2017

10:00am – 1:00pm

Puppetry Masterclass with Henry Maynard of Flabbergast Theatre (Part 1) 

Anselm Studio 2 (Ag09)

1:00pm – 1:30pm


Anselm Foyer

1:30pm – 4:30pm

Puppetry Masterclass with Henry Maynard of Flabbergast Theatre (Part 2)

Anselm Studio 2 (Ag09) 

4:30pm – 6:00pm

Papers 1 – Perspectives from Practitioners

Russell Dean, Strangeface Theatre –  Puppetry and Perception

Rebecca O’Brien, Knuckle and JointPuppetry for Children and Adults in the Age of War Horse

Anselm Studio 1 (Ag08)

Saturday 16th September 2017

10:30am – 11:00am


The Marlowe Theatre

11:00am – 11:10am

Welcome and Outline of the Day

The Marlowe Theatre

11:10am – 11:30am

Film Screening: Olifantland

The Marlowe Theatre

11:30am – 1:00pm

Keynote Talk – Geographies of Collaboration: The Legacy of War Horse 

Basil Jones & Adrian Kohler, Artistic Directors of Handspring Puppet Company

The Marlowe Theatre

1:00pm – 1:30pm

Craig Leo and Matt Forbes in Conversation

Two of the puppeteers working on the current UK tour of War Horse in conversation with Dr Jeremy Bidgood discussing War Horse’s success and legacy

The Marlowe Theatre

1:30pm – 2:30pm

Walk to Canterbury Church University and Lunch

Powell Foyer

2:30pm – 4:00pm

Papers 2 – Perspectives from Academics

Laura Vorwerg Marshall, Royal Holloway, University of London – Negotiating embodied knowledge(s) in interdisciplinary performance practice: collaborative skill augmentation in War Horse.

Dr Valerie Kaneko-Lucas, Regent’s University London – War Horse as Community Metaphor

Dr Jeremy Bidgood, Canterbury Christ Church University – Who does the interweaving? Finding the weaver in the work of Handspring Puppet Company.

Powell Lecture Theatre (Pg09)

4:00pm – 4:30pm

Tea & Coffee

Powell Foyer

4:30pm – 5:30pm

Closing Plenary – What next for UK puppetry?

Chaired by Jeremy Bidgood, with representatives from British UNIMA, The Puppet Centre, The Puppet Place, The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild.

Powell Lecture Theatre (Pg09)

Credit: The National Theatre