HISTORY came alive for students who drew inspiration from War Horse to tap into tales of World War One.
For the past few months, pupils from St Anthony’s Academy, Redhouse Academy and Oxclose Community Academy have been taking part in workshops themed around War Horse, which ran at the Sunderland Empire earlier in the year.
To coincide with the centenary of WW1, the pupils were encouraged to create their own performances, ranging from spoken word to shadow puppetry, to help them connect with sacrifices made 100 years ago.
The workshops, led by Sunderland Empire’s creative learning team and the National Theatre, culminated in a day of performances at Holy Trinity Church in the East End.
Anthony McMahon, 15, from Redhouse Academy, was part of a group who came up with a musical interpretation of the West End play. “We used everything from stamping in wellies to body percussion to create sounds,” he explained. “We came up with poetry by using a bungee cord and running across the hall. The idea was you used whatever words came to mind when you were running.
“It was scary doing our final piece, but I think being part of this project has definitely given me more confidence.”
The War Horse learning project explored themes of the show, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, while also looking into stories of local WW1 heroes.
Anna Old, 17, from St Anthony’s, said: “One of the girls had letters from a relative in WW1 so we used them as our inspiration. We used shadows rather than traditional acting to represent an entire generation, as symbolism of just how many men died.”
Mya Cutts, 12, from Oxclose Academy, said: “In our piece I play a mother of someone who’s gone to war. It’s made me realise just how hard war was.”
Movers, a dance and performance project for retired ladies, based at Sunderland Empire, also performed at the church as part of the event.
Melanie Whitehead, learning programme manager from the War Horse tour, said: “As 2014 marks the start of the centenary of the First World War, we at the National Theatre feel it is vital to be mindful of Michael Morpurgo’s intentions when he wrote War Horse as ‘an anthem for peace’ – not judging sides but ensuring that such atrocities never happen again.
“We are, therefore, delighted that young people all over the country are using War Horse as a stimulus and finding wonderfully creative ways to explore and re-imagine the terrible and moving stories of that time.
“I’m proud that we could support Sunderland Empire in this ambitious project that aims to bring so many different groups and ways of working together.” Ben Phillips, general manager at Sunderland Empire, said.
“It is marvellous to see how groups from across Sunderland have worked creatively to bring together the final sharing event at Holy Trinity Church.
“Our Creative Learning team have worked closely with the National Theatre, the producers behind the critically acclaimed production of War Horse, to support a variety of groups across Sunderland to develop the War Horse learning themed projects over the months and the result is a truly fitting project for this centenary year.”