This week, a new cast takes to the stage in the National Theatre’s hit West End production War Horse. It’s a show that needs no introduction and a story that now – thanks in part to Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film adaptation, but mostly to Michael Morpurgo’s wonderful imagination that created the original novel – is infamous.
Taking on the leading role of Albert in the World War I drama, therefore, must be a daunting task. But as rising star Siôn Daniel Young tells us, he’s too busy trying to believe his luck to feel any nerves, even about having to ride Handspring Puppet Company’s magnificent puppets live on stage…
Where did you grow up?
I’m a Cardiff boy. Born and bred.
What first sparked your interest in performing?
In Wales we have a Welsh language festival called Eisteddfod where schools actively encourage their pupils to perform, be it music, singing or acting. I guess that’s where it began for me.
How did you feel when you first found out you had won the part of Albert?
I was in genuine shock. It was just before Christmas so it really was the best present I could ever have hoped for.
Had you seen War Horse on stage before?
I saw it back in 2010 and thought it was one of the most moving pieces of theatre I’d ever seen. It stayed with me for a long time after that.
Why did you want to be in the show?
It’s a story that I found myself very attached to, and to get to share that with an audience is what it’s all about for me.
Is it nerve wracking going into such a popular show?
Far less so than I expected it to be. I’ve always concentrated on how fortunate I am to be a part of this story so the pressure of being in a West End show seems secondary.
What was it like when you first rehearsed with the puppets?
Initially, very strange. It’s new to both the actor and the puppeteers, so you’re constantly trying to figure what you can and can’t do, and much like two actors it can take time to get comfortable with each other.
You have to ride the horses. Is that frightening?
Not at all, it’s all very safe.
Do you have to keep fit to play the role?
It definitely helps. The play itself feels like a workout!
You were in the film Private Peaceful, which was adapted from another story by Michael Morpurgo. What was that experience like?
Amazing. It was my first feature and we had a great cast. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into film and I’ll forever be grateful for that opportunity.
What do you think it is about Morpurgo’s stories that make them so popular?
He has this ability to create relationships that people can relate to immediately. As a reader you care for the characters as much as they care for each other, whether it’s a boy and his horse, or two brothers who fall for the same girl, like in Private Peaceful. There’s a kindness in his words that you can’t help but warm to.
What has been the most memorable moment from your career so far?
Without doubt, stepping out in front of an audience as Albert for the first time.
Are there any other family stories you would like to be in on stage?
I don’t have a check list of productions I’d like to be involved in, but there’s definitely something special about these types of stories because the audiences are so diverse, which isn’t always the case. Many plays seem directed towards a certain demographic so being in something that everyone can enjoy is pretty special.
Do you think it’s important for families to come to the theatre?
Absolutely. Sharing those kinds of experiences with your family can only be a good thing.
What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
I relax, hang out with friends, go to the cinema, and watch trashy films with my flatmates.
Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
Nothing too set. I’ll warm up, but I’ll only do what I feel I need to do to be ready for that particular show. It all depends on what sort of day I’ve had and where my head’s at. Listening to music is a constant.
What would you choose as a last meal?
Christmas dinner, for sure.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
Less of a talking point for my Mum.