INTERVIEW: Star on bringing War Horse to Sunderland

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Katy Wheeler speaks to the star of War Horse

The magical relationship between animal and human is one that’s been capturing the hearts of West End audiences.

Next year War Horse will be on the move and will make its North East debut at Sunderland Empire.

At the helm will be Newcastle actor Lee Armstrong, who will be getting into the saddle as Albert.

It’s the biggest role to date for the 24-year-old and he can’t wait to perform the lead role in the prestigious National Theatre production.

Like thousands of other theatre-goers, it’s a play that’s sparked his imagination.

“I think it’s because the horse is such an interesting creature and people can empathise with something that never does anything wrong and, in fact, throughout the play helps the humans,” he explained.

“My character comes from not a great family but the horse saves him. It’s a theme that resonates, every human has some sort of affection with animals.” As well as its story, the play has been garnering praise for its puppetry which brings to life the grace and strength of the animal characters.

“It’s definitely my biggest role to date. It’s an incredible show that’s so well liked. I’m really looking forward to rehearsals which start in August,” said Lee, whose television work includes playing Mike Temple in Doctors and Gavin Henderson in Inspector George Gently.

“The puppeteers start rehearsals first, before they get the actors in. The puppetry is amazing, it’s the closest thing to having a horse on stage. They really help to create a magic atmosphere and when you see the puppets’ interaction with the actors it’s like an inanimate object is coming to life.”

Over the years, the Empire has become more associated with musicals than plays but Lee thinks War Horse, which is now in its sixth year in London, will hold wider appeal. “I’m not a great fan of musicals, but plays can be a lot more accessible. It’s good to attract a different crowd,” he said.

Lee is currently starring in Brilliant Adventure’s at the Live Theatre in Newcastle which has been drawing a new crowd thanks to his home-town connections.

He explained: “My friends are not massive theatre-goers and for a lot of them who’ve come to see this piece at Live Theatre it’s their first time and they’ve really enjoyed it.

“Theatre needs that, it needs a diverse audience. It’s an art form that can sometimes have a stigma attached to it, people see it as something for the middle classes but theatre is for everyone. In fact it started as a working class thing, it’s about telling stories, that’s all it is.”

•War Horse is at Sunderland Empire from April 30 – May 17, 2014. Tickets priced £15 - £45 can be purchased by calling the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022, online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland or at the Sunderland Empire Box Office.

One boy’s fight to find his beloved horse

War Horse is the powerful story of a young boy called Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who has been requisitioned to fight for the English in the First World War. 

Caught in enemy crossfire, Joey ends up serving on both sides during the war before landing in no man’s land, while Albert, not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home. 

A remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship, War Horse features ground-breaking puppetry work by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, which brings breathing and galloping horses to life on stage.

It’s based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo.

The play has been seen by more than three million people world-wide since its premiere in 2007.