Our work

Picture captured during the production 'Warhorse'

Over the past 30 years, Handspring Puppet Company 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 produced since 1986 has been adult theatre. Outlined here is the company’s work for adult audiences, in chronological order of creation.


Little Amal

Picture captured on Little Amals journey
Little Amal is the 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee child at the heart of The Walk. She has become a global symbol of human rights, especially those of refugees.

Since July 2021, Amal has travelled over 9,000km in 13 countries and been welcomed by more than a million people on the street, including hundreds of artists and civil society and faith leaders, as well as by tens of millions online. Her journeys are festivals of art and hope that draw attention to the huge numbers of children fleeing war, violence and persecution, each with their own story. Her urgent message to the world is “Don’t forget about us”.

In June 2023, Amal will visit the Luminato Festival Toronto. She will be welcomed to Toronto by musicians, dancers, children, elders, civic leaders, community organisers and newcomer and refugee groups who will come together to create a magical journey of art and hope, which everyone is invited to join.

Life & Times of Michael K

Picture from the production 'Life & Times of Michael K'
When his mother wants to return to die on the farm where she grew up, Michael K embarks on a journey through a country shattered by the confusions of civil war. However, she dies shortly after they set off – and Michael must continue in an effort to take her ashes home.

In a violent world, Michael K is a simple prophet who seeks strength in his humanity and his deep connection to the earth,”says Lara Foot.

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse

Picture captured during the production 'Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (The Return of Ulysses)'
Visionary director William Kentridge and early music specialists the Ricercar Consort of Belgium join Handspring to share their version of Monteverdi’s opera. In a 20th-century Johannesburg hospital, the dying Ulysses reviews the events of his life. Handspring’s puppets and Kentridge’s extraordinary animations breathe extraordinary life into this, one of the earliest works in the operatic canon. Il Ritorno d’Ulisse blurs the boundaries between human reality and artifice, memory and actuality, to create a powerful, universal and unforgettable operatic experience–like Homer’s original, a timeless epic of absence and adventure, of yearning, love and human fragility, and how fidelity and courage ultimately triumph over deception and greed.


Midsummer Night's Dream (Bristol Old Vic 2013)

Picture captured during the production 'Midsummer nights dream'
Tom Morris says this second version of Handspring’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about the imagination and how transformative it is. It’s about changes of shape and changes of mind, and challenges to the idea of a subject in continuity. It’s also about the feeling when you don’t know whether you are awake or asleep. It’s the feeling that you have to reset your parameters which necessitates an array of puppetry languages for this play. These differing modes of representation allow unusual ways of representing things and also allows the mapping of what it feels like when you are reading something in one way and then suddenly find yourself reading it in another way.

Or You Could Kiss Me

Picture captured during the production 'Or You Could Kiss Me'
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.

I Love You When You're Breathing

Picture captured during the production 'I love when you are breathing'
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, this short ‘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.

War Horse

Picture captured during the production 'Warhorse'
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 cane, steel, leather and aircraft bicycle cables.

Tall Horse

Snap shot from the production 'Tall horse'
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 because a giraffe hadn’t been seen in Europe since the Renaissance and some say he 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.

The Chimp Project

Picture captured during the production 'The Chimp project'
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 into the wild.

Confessions of Zeno

Picture captured during the production 'Zeno confessions'
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 his 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 PuppetCompany, 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.

Zeno at 4am

Picture captured during the production 'Zeno at 4am'
This production was the precursor to Confessions of 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 in 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 and the death of his father whom he did not love enough when he was young.

Ubu and the Truth Commission

Picture captured during the production 'Ubu and the Truth Commission'
Ubu and the Truth Commission, directed by William Kentridge, with a script by Jane Taylor, 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 as a puppet play 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. Actual testimony, by those who gave testimony at the Commission, forms a poignant counterpoint to Ma and Pa Ubu’s excesses.

Faustus in Africa

Picture captured during the production 'Faustus in Africa'
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.

Woyzeck on the Highveld

Picture captured during the production 'Woyzeck on the Highveld'
William Kentridge’s 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 Handspring’s rod-manipulated puppets and Kentridge’s animated film to graphically illustrate Woyzeck’s tortured mind as he tries to make sense of his external circumstances.


Picture captured during the production 'Starbrites'
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. This was the first play produced by the Market Theatre Laboratory, directed by theatre guru, Barney Simon.

Tooth and Nail

Picture captured during the production 'Tooth and Nail'
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. Junction Avenue Theatre Company directed by Malcolm Purkey.

Midsummer Night's Dream

Picture captured during the production 'Midsummer nights dream'
Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of love triangles, fairies and kings is re-visioned with the Bambara and Bozo traditions of Malitying 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.

Episodes of an Easter Rising

Picture captured during the production 'Episodes of an Easter Rising'
This was a string puppet version of a radio play by David Lytton. The play deals with the choices two White women – who incidentally, but importantly, are lovers – have to make when a wounded Black activist, hunted by the police, seeks refuge on their remote farm.

Our media



Jane Taylor

The paper discusses the play Tall Horse, which was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The play tells the story of a giraffe that was gifted to King Charles X of France in 1826. The play explores the cultural exchange between Africa and Europe, and the ways in which value is created and circulated.

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This short piece outlines the ongoing work of Handspring Puppet Company (makers of the puppets for War Horse) in rural South Africa. The Trust is committed to the principle that artistic expression is integral to human wellbeing. In the contexts of post-Apartheid reconstruction, the imaginative boldness made possible through the puppet is a substantial resource for joy and exploration.

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Jane Taylor

This paper is largely theoretical and it examines the spectrum of inanimate presences that might be considered “puppets,” in order to understand what they make available to cultural expression. The examples range from an automated bank teller to the IBM compute HAL (from Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey); to the macabre preserved body of Norman Bates’s mother in Psycho.

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