JOEY trotted, whinnied and reared up on the seafront in the glorious sunshine.

Onlookers at a distance would have been forgiven for wondering why a stallion was loose near the Brighton Palace Pier, such were the realistic movements of the animal.

In reality Joey is a life-size puppet, controlled by three skilled puppeteers.

The horse is the central character of War Horse, the wildly popular West End play coming to the Brighton Centre next January.

The production is based on Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book of the same name and premiered at the National Theatre in London in 2007.

It has since been staged in 97 cities in ten countries. Joey has even been on the Great Wall of China to promote a run in Asia.

Set in World War One, War Horse is a tale of courage and friendship about a young boy called Albert and his horse. After Joey is bought by the British Army, he encounters numerous owners and characters throughout Europe.

Matthew Forbes, puppetry director of the play since it started its West End run, said War Horse had become a “global phenomenon”.

He said: “In England we have a huge connection to World War One and we’re massive animal lovers.

“It’s exciting to be in Brighton. The Royal Pavilion was a hospital in the war so it’s fitting to tell the story down the road from it. Mr Forbes added that a “less is more” approach was the best way forward with the production.

“What can happen with puppetry is that you want to show off all the tricks you can do. The audience love it most when the horse is just standing still, though.”

“They say they can see his chest shiver, which obviously doesn’t happen as he’s not real. But it shows how much they are invested in it.”

  • War Horse will be at the Brighton Centre from January 25 to February 10. For tickets, visit