There’s something magical about bringing a puppet horse to life every night on stage.
Tom Stacy, who grew up in Crawley, is one of the team who animate Joey, the War Horse of the title in a major national tour, which goes through until December.
Along the way it plays the Brighton Centre from January 25 to February 10.
“I feel incredibly lucky to be Joey,” Tom says. “The company from South Africa that created the puppets have created a work of art. I remember in auditions when I first held it for long. It was incredible. I am the head puppeteer. I stand outside and the emotional indicators I have are the ears, the way you show whether Joey is angry or intrigued or whatever is happening.
“It’s a real work-out every show. Physically it is very hard work. You have got to be in good condition. The horse weighs ten stone all in all, and when you have got a rider, it can go up to nearly 20 stone, and you have got to keep the horse alive. And I am holding up a very heavy head for two and a half hours!
“But also it is hard work in terms of concentration. I am working with two other puppeteers but during the show, obviously we can’t communicate with each other directly. We have got to communicate through the horse, and so we all have to be there on the same breath.”
Tom continues: “We have to make it look like this horse is a living thing, and that means the horse has got to react if something happens slightly differently, if someone says a line slightly more angrily one night. A horse will never lie. You have got to show the reactions in the moment and make them truthful.
“Just by chance, the last couple of shows I did before War Horse had elements of puppetry to them. I have always been intrigued. I have always been a fan of movement and theatre and physical theatre. I was talking to my agent, and it just so happened that War Horse was casting at the same time, and this just feels like the absolute pinnacle to be part of this show.”
As he says, it’s a show which is 100 per cent fantastic to be part of, particularly the pleasure of bringing Joey to life recently on the show’s tenth anniversary.
“It felt such an honour to be in such an important show,” Tom says. “It’s a story about love and hope and friendship, and it speaks to all the generations in so many different ways. It’s about the love between horse and boy and mother and son and between comrades, but it also tells an important piece of our history and the world’s history.”
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