Emma Clarendon chatted to the actor about bringing the Barn Theatre production of Michael Morpurgo’s story to the West End.  

Hi James, thank you very much for talking to me. How are you feeling about bringing this production to London? I feel really honoured to be a small part of UK theatre’s big comeback. It is such a moving and affecting story and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of this special production. I am so excited to bring it to the West End.

For those who aren’t familiar with Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful what is it about? The story follows the two Peaceful brothers from their school days in rural, early 1900’s England. we seem them poaching, working on farms and swimming in streams. We then follow their journey through the horrors of trench warfare from France to Ypres during World War I. It’s essentially a story about friendship and brotherhood set against the backdrop of a pretty dark and shameful moment in British history.

What was it about the story that caught your attention? I was aware of the novel form a young age having played Charlie Peaceful at youth theatre many years ago and really admired Michael Morpurgo’s writing and after reading Simon Reade’s crisp and snappy adaptation – I knew I had to be involved in some way.

How has it felt being back on stage again?Being back on stage is incredible. After all that’s happened this year and having gone from genuinely believing I would never perform again to being part of this amazing production I am just so grateful to be able to share this story with the public. The way it has been received and experiencing the palpable excitement of people being back in the theatre for a live performance is just a joy. All the creatives involved have been a pleasure to work with and there is a real sense of us paving a way to bring theatre back and it is an honour to be able to play a part in that.

As well as bringing the production to london, you’re getting to
perform it on Remembrance Day – how does that feel?

Performing Private Peaceful on Remembrance Day is something I don’t
take lightly. In researching World War I for this project I learnt
about the nightmare and futility that is warfare and how World War I in particular was a bloody and brutal affair. So many young men on
all sides, from all across the world gave their lives in what was an
incredibly bleak period in world history. I think it is crucial that we keep
these memories in the national consciousness so that we might avoid
falling into these political patterns again. This production really
highlights the loss of innocence, as a young boy’s life and world is torn
apart by the horrors of war. Having said that, it is also a story about hope in the face of adversity and that the human spirit and compassion endures through the darkest days and we do well to honour the memory and lives of these young men.

What have you enjoyed the most about being part of this
production so far?
I have to say, going to the village of Iddesleigh and being read to by Michael Morpurgo himself from the novel of Private Peaceful was pretty special. We also performed on the village green of the village where the novel is set. The whole village turned out and we were honoured to perform for them. Michael has been so supportive of this new
production, which is the first to feature the ending from his novel.

How would you describe Private Peaceful?
I would say it is an epic tale of brotherly love and defiance in the face of
adversity.

By Emma Clarendon

Private Peaceful will play at the Garrick Theatre from the 7th to the 22nd November.