Longleat has commissioned puppetry specialists from the National Theatre’s production of Warhorse to bring a giant lion puppet to life.
The big cat puppet, which is nearly three metres long and more than two metres tall, will feature in daily parades at the Wiltshire stately home throughout the summer as part of the 50th anniversary of Longleat Safari Park.
Longleat was the first place outside of Africa to open a drive-through safari park in 1966 and has since become synonymous with lions.
A team of three puppeteers will control the giant lion, which has been created with an internal structure made from cane, plywood, aluminium and rope. It was designed and built by resident puppetry director for Warhorse Jimmy Grimes along with puppet designer David Cauchi.
“It all started by looking at real lions and watching how they move and then breaking that down in to simple mechanics in our studio,” said Jimmy. “That stealthy and soft muscular movement, which is so distinctive in lions, was something we really wanted to capture – and we think we’ve succeeded. We then brought him down to Longleat to literally put him and his puppeteers through their paces.
“We have been working on this project for four months now and it’s great to see the lion puppet finally complete and so close to the real big cats. It’s quite a match for the real thing!” he added.
The lion will lead the daily parades throughout the summer which also feature African dancers, animatronic floats and a selection of friendly animals including donkeys, ducks and goats, which will culminate with a special end-of-day performance where visitors will get to see him roar.
Longleat’s African Summer launched on 23rd July and is on daily until 4th September. For full information on opening times, events, activities, and to buy tickets online, go to www.longleat.co.uk