During the First World War, the British Army deployed more than a million horses and mules.
War Horse, which begins its run at the Sunderland Empire on April 30th, picks up the story of these horses by focusing on just one of them.
The play famously uses puppets to bring the animals to life.
The stage show in Sunderland runs until 17th May. The cast includes three North East actors: the leading man is Lee Armstrong, from Gosforth in Newcastle, who said he will have 36 friends in the stalls on one night; Bob Fox, from Seaham, is Songman, playing melodian at certain magcal moments during the show; and Helen Macfarlane, from Cramlington, Northumberland, is one of the actors-turned-puppeteers, controlling the youngest version of the horse.
During her preparation, Helen was given a photograph of her own great-grandfather serving with the Royal Hussars in World War One. He was a blacksmith at home in the North East, so he was sent to look after the horses.
– Helen Macfarlane
He had an amazing story. He was due to go over the top the following morning, but he came down with appendicitis and was rushed to the field hospital. He and one other man were the only ones from their regiment to survive. Without that appendicitis, I might not be here. I try to keep him and the others in my mind when working on this show."