Handspring Productions

Over the past 30 years Handspring Puppet Company has participated in the creation of over 16 theatre productions. Although the company has done some work for young audiences and for television, the majority of the work has been adult theatre. Outlined here is the company’s work for adult audiences, in chronological order of creation. Limited credits are mentioned for each production.


I Love You When You’re Breathing

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2011
Director: Jason Potgieter
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company
ilywyb
I Love You When You’re Breathing audiences have the unique opportunity of seeing a puppet deliver a meta-theatrical address to critics and the general public. Using comedy and generous amounts of self-reflexive humour this presentation gives insight into the behind-the-scenes life of a puppet, as an object in the world of international theatre. Often humorous and sometimes irreverent, the lecture looks at what it’s like to be inanimate while also considering the special role of the audience and its part in making meaning.

Ouroboros

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2011
Director: Janni Younge with Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company

Ouroboros is a tale of dreaming and the cycles of life, created with evocative imagery. At its heart, it is a love story between a dancer and a poet finding the courage to commit. Using the uniquely transforming powers of the puppetry medium, these two characters are able to appear as several versions of themselves. Audiences witness the unfolding drama of their lives from birth to death. Their interactions form a web of relationships, revealing the interdependence of the past, present and future.top

Or You Could Kiss Me

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2010
Director: Neil Bartlett
Producer: The National Theatre
or you could kiss me
In the winter of 2036, in a shabby apartment in Port Elizabeth, two old men search for a way to say goodbye after a lifetime spent together. In the perfect summer of 1971, in a very different South Africa, their handsome younger selves search for the courage to fall in love.  Poised halfway between these two stories – one imagined, one remembered – their real-life counterparts bear witness to both the beginning and the ending of an incredible journey.
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War Horse

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2007
Directors: Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris
Producer: The National Theatre, presented in association with Handspring Puppet Company

Set in Devon at the outbreak of World War I, Joey, young Albert Narracott’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France.  He embarks on an epic odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in a no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey, and, still not old enough to enlist in the army, he embarks on a dangerous mission to find and bring him back to Devon. War Horse is a powerfully moving and imaginative drama, filled with stirring music, lighting and magnificent artistry. The Puppetry brings galloping, full-scale horses to life on stage — their flanks, hides and sinews built of steel, leather and aircraft cables.
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Tall Horse

 

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2004
Director: Marthinus Basson
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company

Tall Horse is based on the life of a giraffe caught in the southern Sudan by the Viceroy of Egypt to be presented as a gift for the King of France in 1827. The giraffe was taken up the River Nile in a felucca, shipped across the Mediterranean and wintered in Marseilles. A three-month walk to Paris creates a sensation on the way, and some say inspires the design of the Eiffel Tower. This multi-media production captures the extraordinary journey, while the giraffe’s handler, Atir, interprets their discovery of France with wit and irony.
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The Chimp Project

 

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2000
Director: Adrian Kohler
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company

Trained in the art of sign language, Lisa, a sexually aware adolescent chimp, has outgrown her television career and Johannesburg.  Her human flatmate takes her to a rehabilitation sanctuary in the Congo where an Afro-Japanese primatologist, Tadashi, is appalled by Lisa’s taste for human food, gin & cigarettes. Tadashi has disdain for the sign language experiments Lisa’s been subjected to and takes her on a journey back to the wild. top

Zeno at 4am

 

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2001
Director: William Kenrtidge
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company
Zeno
Zeno has perfect self-knowledge but is ineffective in applying this. This production is a shadow oratorio which combines a range of media to depict Zeno during the state between waking and sleeping and the dilemmas which swirl through his mind – about his wife and his mistress, whether his pleasures (smoking being one) will cause his death, his precarious business dealings, the death of his father whom he did not love enough when he was young. top

Confessions of Zeno

 

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2002
Director: William Kentridge
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company
confessions of zeno
Confessions of Zeno explores the worlds of work and of erotic pleasure that sustain the life of the modern European bourgeoisie in the years before the outbreak of World War I. The central character (Zeno), recalls the great moments of indecision and irresolution that have marked his life, and that have set in place his unresolved relationships with his father, and his wife and mistress. Through the gently mocking voice of self-irony, the work is a eulogy to a generation coming to terms with the limits of self-knowledge. The play is a collaboration between artist/director William Kentridge, Handspring Puppet Company, composer Kevin Volans and writer Jane Taylor and it explores visual and aural fields in ways that are radically contemporary while remaining richly evocative of early modernism’s impact upon Victorian consciousness. top

Il Ritorno d’Ulisse

 

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1998
Director: William Kentridge
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company

In Kentridge’s version of Monteverdi’s work, Ulisse lies centre stage in a hospital bed in Johannesburg. His visions, dreams and thoughts are conveyed to the audience via the local performance of the opera singers. Before dying, Ulisse remembers his return from his ten-year expedition following the Trojan War to find his wife Penelope besieged with suitors and his son Telemachus in duress. The dying Ulisse puppet watches his former self re-enact his return to Penelope and his defeat of her suitors. top

Ubu and the Truth Commission

 

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1997
Director: William Kentridge
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company
ubu
Ubu and the Truth Commission combines puppetry, performance by live actors, music, animation and documentary footage. The play is based on the hearings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and on a 19th century licentious slob – Ubu Roi – created in 1888 by the French playwright, Alfred Jarry, when he was still a student. In this production Ubu is a policeman for whom torture, murder, sex and food are all variations of a single gross appetite. top

Faustus in Africa

 

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1995
Director: William Kentridge
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company with The Market Theatre
faustus
The legend of Faust is based on the story of the sixteenth-century learned scholar who squandered his fortune and then sold his soul to the devil in exchange for additional time to search for the meaning of existence through travel and indulgences. After making his pact with the devil, Handspring’s Faustus goes on a safari. Indulging in elaborate feasts and buying sprees, Faustus attempts to consume all that Africa has to offer. Transposed to Africa his desires become those of the archetypal greedy colonialist – his victims the African people and their land. top

Woyzeck on the Highveld

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1992
Director: William Kentridge
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company with The Market Theatre
woyzeck
An adaptation of German writer Georg Buchner’s famous play of jealousy, murder and the struggle of an ordinary man against an uncaring society which eventually destroys him.  Büchner’s Woyzeck is a German soldier in 1800s, but in this version, Woyzeck is a migrant worker in 1950s Johannesburg, a landscape of barren industrialisation. The production brings together rod-manipulated puppets and animated film to graphically illustrate Woyzeck’s tortured mind as he tries to make sense of his external circumstances. top

Starbrites

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1990
Director: Barney Simon
Producer: The Market Theatre

A down-and-out musician, living in a Soweto shack, has his spirit rekindled by the infectious optimism of his adoring young nephew from the country, who encourages him to pursue the singer of his band, his long-lost love. Human actors perform uncle and nephew while puppets of varying sizes form the other characters: gossiping neighbours in windows, Soweto street life, alley cats and life-size shebeen queens. top

Tooth and Nail

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1989
Director: Malcolm Purkey
Producer: Junction Avenue Theatre Company

An apocalyptic prediction of the chaos about to envelop pre-election South Africa. A life-size news photographer whose body is wasted away in parts, bears silent witness to the violent life of a militant schoolgirl, her sangoma mother, a prophetic trade unionist, and a trio of yuppies. On the other side of town an opera-loving madam singing duets with her manservant shift the paradigm of despair. top

Midsummer Night’s Dream

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1988
Director: Esther van Ryswyk (Baxter), Fred Abrahamse (Market Theatre)
Producer: The Baxter Theatre and the Market Theatre

Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of love triangles, fairies and kings is re-visioned with the Bambara and Bozo traditions of Mali tying with Japanese Bunraku conventions.  This production aimed to break the longstanding division between straight theatre and other art forms such as puppetry, dance and sculpture and to challenge and replace it with a more holistic concept of the theatre. top

Episodes of an Easter Rising

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1985
Director: Esther van Ryswyk
Producer: Handspring Puppet Company

This was a string puppet version of a radio play by David Lytton. The play deals with the choices two white women have to make when a wounded black activist, hunted by the police, seeks refuge on their remote farm. top