War Horse star Joey gallops into Seaham and Sunderland

The star of War Horse brought passersby to a standstill when he galloped into Sunderland and Seaham to launch the hit show’s return to the area.

Life-size puppet Joey proved a real ‘mane’ attraction as he posed for photos at Seaham’s Tommy statue and Roker Pier to promote the fact that the show will play Sunderland Empire from February 6-23, 2019, as part of its 10th anniversary UK tour.

Joey at Roker Pier.

Joey at Roker Pier.

The stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s story of courage, loyalty and friendship between a young boy called Albert and his horse Joey set amidst the horrors of WW1, previously visited the venue for a sold out three-week run in 2014, when it became one of the best-selling shows at the theatre.

In the centenary year of the end of the Great War it was particularly poignant for the cast to visit Tommy, who is modelled on a WWI soldier.

Bringing Joey to life was talented trio of puppeteers Gareth Aled, Michael Taibi and Antony Antunes, who give the 10-stone structure its equine movements and sounds.

Antony said: “We performed on the centenary of the start of the war and to be on stage 100 years to the day after the war started in this show was really emotional and it will be again in November when we perform 100 years after the war has ended.”

Joey from War Horse meets Tommy

Joey from War Horse meets Tommy

The puppetry teams spend time with horses as they learn how to ape their movements for the production and Michael says the key to the performance is making people suspend their disbelief. He said: “We had a fantastic response at Tommy and Roker Pier, seeing people’s reaction to Joey for the first time just never gets old. It isn’t about us, we work together to make him come to life and the greatest compliment people can make is when they say they forgot we were there, as that shows we’ve nailed it and done our job.”

After a morning taking in the sites, Joey featured in Q&A event at Sunderland Empire, attended by invited groups and schools.

The show is aimed at people aged 10 and over and Gareth says it’s hugely engaging for youngsters.

He explained: “In an age where everyone is always on their tablet it’s important for people to look up and see live performance and use their imagination. Theatre is one of the oldest art forms but in 2018 it feels quite radical to put your phone away for two hours and share a story together.”

'Joey' star of the National Theatre's acclaimed play War Horse will soon tour the UK pictured here in Sunderland ahead of dates at the Sunderland Empire Theatre in February 2019.

'Joey' star of the National Theatre's acclaimed play War Horse will soon tour the UK pictured here in Sunderland ahead of dates at the Sunderland Empire Theatre in February 2019.

Assistant puppetry director Matthew Forbes said: “It’s brilliant to be back in Sunderland, this is the only venue in this area we’ll be touring to and we had said a fantastic response here in 2014. People were buying standing tickets because there were no seats left.

“Joey really is magical. We all know he’s a puppet but five seconds in and you think he’s a real horse. We have horse lovers and horse owners come to the show and they always comment on how realistic he is, down to the flick of his ear. This isn’t a film, there’s no CGI or special effects, this is old school, beautiful story-telling and the audiences’ imagination coming together.”

•War Horse is at Sunderland Empire from February 6-23, 2019. Tickets from the Box Office in High Street West, Tel, 0844 871 3022 or www.ATGtickets.com/sunderland

Houghton Pipe Band welcome Joey

Houghton Pipe Band welcome Joey