Handspring Puppet Company

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Handspring Puppet Company
puppetry performance and scenic design
Foundedcirca 1981
FounderAdrian Kohler and Basil Jones[1]
HeadquartersLocations in South Africa, England, and the United States, ,
Key people
Thys Stander[2]

The Handspring Puppet Company is a puppetry performance and design company established in 1981 by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, situated in Cape Town, South Africa. Thys Stander is the company's chief puppet maker.[2]


Jones and Kohler met at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town.[3] At first, they designed puppets for children-targeted productions, which Jones initially disliked. Kohler "introduced him [Jones] to the west African tradition of puppetry for adults,"[4] working with Malcolm Purkey and Barney Simon, among others.[5]

Productions and exhibitions[edit]

1987 saw their exhibition of "Unmasking the Puppet" at UNISA.[1] Prior to that, Esther van Ryswyk directed their puppets in a play called Episodes of an Easter Rising (1985), based on David Lyttons's radio special of the same name.[1] It premiered in Charleville-Mézières, France.[2]

In 1997, they worked with William Kentridge on Ubu and the Truth Commission.[6] It premiered in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 26 May 1997.[7] Kentridge had been working for some years with the Handspring Puppet Company in Johannesburg, most notably on Woyzeck on the Highveld in 1993 and Faustus in Africa in 1996. The latter, according to Kentridge, was "a huge undertaking",[8] after which he and the company were on the look-out merely for something small to "do and survive".[9] Starting on 18 September 1998, Ubu and the Truth Commission played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for four performances.[10]

Yaya Coulibaly's play Tall Horse (2006) toured Africa under the supervision and direction of the company.[11] On 1 March 2011, Kohler and Jones demonstrated a hyena puppet used in Faustus in Africa (1995) at the TED 2011 event in Long Beach, California.[12]

The Handspring Puppet Company achieved critical acclaim when War Horse premiered in South Bank, London, on 17 October 2007.[13] For this show, Kohler and Jones worked with directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris and choreographer Toby Sedgwick[14] to design and construct life-sized horse puppets, controlled by three actors – two to operate the legs and one to control the head and neck, with all three actors providing a variety of sound effects.[12] The company won an Olivier Award, Evening Standard Theatre Award and London Critics' Circle Theatre Award.[15][16][17] The show transferred to the West End on 28 March 2009,[18] and on 15 March 2011, the show premiered on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.[19]

The company collaborated with Neil Bartlett on Or You Could Kiss Me, which opened at the National Theatre in London on 5 October 2010, following previews from 28 September. The show has been described as "an intimate history of two very private lives, lived in extraordinary times."[20] It closed on 18 November 2010.[21]

For the Broadway production of War Horse, the company has received an Outer Critics Circle Special Achievement Award for "Puppet Design, Fabrication and Direction for War Horse", and they are also a recipient of the 2011 Special Tony Award.[22][23]


  1. ^ a b c Rubin, Don (1997). The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre: Africa. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  2. ^ a b c "Handspring Puppet Company", Who's Who, Celebrity Buzz, accessed 3 April 2011
  3. ^ "About the Company". Handspring Puppet Company. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  4. ^ Costa, Maddy (3 October 2010). "The gay puppet stars of Or You Could Kiss Me". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  5. ^ Baraitser, Marion (1999). Theatre of Animation: Contemporary Adult Puppet Plays in Context, Volume 10, Part 1. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  6. ^ Kohler and Jones 2007, p. xvii.
  7. ^ The world premiere of Ubu and the Truth Commission followed on 17 June 1997, at the Kunsfest in Weimar.
  8. ^ Kentridge 2007, p. ix.
  9. ^ Kentridge 2007, p. x.
  10. ^ McGrath, Sean (27 August 1998). "Footloose & Fugard to Highlight D.C.'s Kennedy Center 1998-99 Season". Playbill. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  11. ^ "Tall Horse". Handsrping Puppet Company
  12. ^ a b TED Blog (30 March 2011). "The genius puppetry behind War Horse: Handspring Puppet Company". TED 2011. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  13. ^ "War Horse" Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine ltdb.co.uk, accessed 20 January 2010.
  14. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (20 December 2010). "'War Horse' Corrals Its American Cast". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  15. ^ "Hairspray Wins Four 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards Including Best Musical" Archived 24 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine playbill.com
  16. ^ "Evening Standard nominations - 2007" holidayextras.co.uk
  17. ^ Broadwayworld.com
  18. ^ "'War Horse' Opens In The West End 3/28/09" broadwayworld.com, 8 December 2008
  19. ^ Hetrick, Adam (20 December 2010). "Seth Numrich to Lead 'War Horse' on Broadway; 35-Member Cast Announced". Playbill. Archived from the original on 23 February 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  20. ^ Hetrick, Adam (5 October 2010). "Or You Could Kiss Me Opens at London's National Theatre Oct. 5". Playbill.com. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  21. ^ "Or You Could Kiss Me". National Theatre. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  22. ^ Gans, Andrew."Outer Critics Circle Nominees Include 'Sister Act', 'Anything Goes', 'Book of Mormon' " Archived 29 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, 26 April 2011
  23. ^ Marks, Peter (13 June 2011). "Tony Awards 2011: 'Book of Mormon', 'War Horse' take top honors; Neil Patrick Harris impresses as host". Washington Post. Retrieved 4 September 2014.


  • Kentridge, William. "Director's Note". In Ubu and the Truth Commission, by Jane Taylor, viii-xv. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2007.
  • Jones, Basil, and Adrian Kohler. "Puppeteers' Note". In Ubu and the Truth Commission, by Jane Taylor, xvi-xvii. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2007.

External links[edit]