War Horse rides into the North-East

'Joey' the horse, from the stage production of War Horse, pictured outside Sunderland Empire Theatre in High Street West.

'Joey' the horse, from the stage production of War Horse, pictured outside Sunderland Empire Theatre in High Street West.

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One of the West End’s biggest stars has galloped into Wearside.

Weighing nine-stone and operated by three skilled puppeteers, the life-size star of War Horse took a break from wowing audiences in London to give Sunderland a sneak preview of the show.

Guests to the Sunderland Empire were treated to a puppetry demonstration by the National Theatre ahead of the award-winning show’s North East debut next year.

Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse will run at the High Street West venue for three weeks.

Jimmy Grimes, the show’s resident puppetry director, says the cast are looking forward to introducing the spectacle to Sunderland audiences,

“War Horse is part of a boom in puppetry which is used by shows like Avenue Q and Lion King,” he explained.

“When you can make people believe the puppet is completely alive, it becomes more than children’s entertainment.”

Puppeteers practise for months to master the fluid movements and sound of the animals used in the piece, which tells the story of a boy named Albert and his beloved horse Joey as the pair are caught up in the battlefields of the First World War.

“So many people connect with the horses on stage and Joey is very much the star of the show,” said Jimmy.

“There are older people who come who have been affected by war, there are young people studying the book and there are people who say that Joey reminds them of their horse.

“That’s the biggest compliment, when what you do on stage connects with people in real life.”

A host of local actors are among those bringing the story to life on the national tour.

Durham-based singer Bob Fox, who plays Songman, is among the cast, as well as former Durham University student Helen Macfarlane who plays a young Joey.

•War Horse is at Sunderland Empire from April 30-May 17. Tickets, priced £15-£45, are available from Tel. 0844 871 3022 and online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.