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BWW Interview: Emily Costello Talks PRIVATE PEACEFUL at the Garrick Theatre

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Emily Costello chats about making her West End debut, how it felt to be back on stage and being the first female performer to play the role on a professional stage.

BWW Interview: Emily Costello Talks PRIVATE PEACEFUL at the Garrick Theatre
Emily Costello in Private Peaceful

After a successful run at both the Barn Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, Private Peaceful is heading to the West End's Garrick Theatre, and becoming one of the first new productions to open since the closure of theatres.

Making her West End debut in the show is Emily Costello. She chatted to us about rehearsing in a pandemic and being the first female performer to play Tommo on the professional stage.

Can you tell us a bit about Private Peaceful?

The play is about two brothers, Charlie and Tommo; Charlie is the older brother and I'm playing the younger brother. The show follows their lives from childhood through school, all the way through to them going off to World War One together and their journey through that.

How have rehearsals been doing Covid-19? Has it affected the development of the show?

It was very strange, and straight from the beginning we were very aware of the new ways we had to do it. Our movement director Zöe Grain was fabulous, and we've done the whole play socially distanced, even though there's only two of us performing in the production - so we have separate props and we're spaced on stage, so we never touch.

It was a really interesting process, because actually there was so much that we found we could do with these new guidelines to make it really interesting visually as well as safe.

You've already done performances of Private Peaceful at Bristol Old Vic. How did it feel to be back on stage again?

Absolutely incredible, it was so much fun. Opening night was amazing, it was just so wonderful to see people safely in theatre again - it was fabulous. The theatre itself is beautiful too. It was such a thrill for us all to be back on stage, as a team.

What was the audience reaction like? Because like most venues, Bristol Old Vic had been shut until very recently

It was amazing. They seemed so with it and so supportive and I think you could really feel that. We've had so many lovely audiences since we've gone up with this here, as well as at The Barn Theatre, and it's so wonderful to see people coming away and being able to enjoy theatre again.

BWW Interview: Emily Costello Talks PRIVATE PEACEFUL at the Garrick Theatre
Emily Costello in Private Peaceful

Obviously, the pandemic must have been brought challenges to the production. What's been the biggest challenge to overcome?

I would say initially, it was early on when we were figuring out how we were going to do this and make it safe for each other as well as everyone else. But our movement director Zöe has made it so stylised and Alex Knott our director too; plus, we've worked together before, all of us as a team, which was lovely. So that instantly put us in a good space to work on this.

But there's also been challenges of remembering that we've each got our own props - so that involved sourcing two of everything that we needed and making sure we had things like that to make sure it was extra safe. Whereas normally you wouldn't think twice about hugging someone on stage, we then had to come up with different ways around that, but I think we've done it effectively in a way that's visually quite interesting.

This will be one of the first new productions staged indoors in the West End since lockdown - are you excited to be part of leading the way?

So excited! We've all said that it's such an honour and a real privilege to be a part of this reopening. We've been following this since March and really backing the theatre and arts industry, so I'm so excited to be a part of the comeback and the reopening of theatres. It's a real honour.

How are you feeling about making your West End debut?

Oh, it's crazy! It was absolutely mad when we found out we were going to be able to do it. We had such a wonderful time at The Barn Theatre, and then to find out that we were then able to move onto the Bristol Old Vic and now the Garrick is just phenomenal.

We're all so excited to be there and moving forward with this play and bringing it to more audiences. I think it's such a beautiful story, so it's going to be a real pleasure to share it with people.

It must have been lovely to have been part of the show's journey going into different venues?

It's been so lovely! We've had such an incredibly supportive team right from the beginning when it was just the four of us, and then moving into the Barn space and their incredible lighting and sound technicians and all our stage managers - we've had such phenomenal support.

It's been so wonderful to take it to lots of different locations and see it grow and expand with every place that we move to. Every stage is different, and that's been such an exciting part of it - just getting used to a new place has been brilliant.

You're the first female performer to play Tommo on the professional stage, and it's also the first production to have two cast members rather than being a solo piece, as it was originally written. - has this allowed you to make the role and the show your own?

BWW Interview: Emily Costello Talks PRIVATE PEACEFUL at the Garrick Theatre
Emily Costello and James Demaine
in Private Peaceful

Yeah, I think so. Our director has created a new imagining of the story, and I think it's wonderful to do it as a two-hander with me and James Demaine, who's playing Charlie.

James is such a wonderful actor and we're really able to showcase the relationship between the two brothers, which is such an essential part of the story. That was such an exciting way to work with it and work through it, and it was a great challenge for me to step into Tommo's shoes and to tap into that youthful energy and his story and his journey, really. So, it's been a lot of fun.

Press night will be in aid of the Royal British Legion and there will also be a special 11.01am performance on 11 November. How important is it that we remember and share World War history in the arts?

I think it's so important, especially as the run falls on the 11th, that we're able to do this Remembrance together. I also think being able to share that message of hope that comes through the play on that very special day - I'm really honoured that we're going to be able to do that.

What have you missed the most about theatre over the past six months?

Oh, everything! I love the theatre! I've missed it as an actor being onstage, but also, I've missed being an audience member and being a part of that escapism. It's a place you can go and just absorb yourself in whatever story is being told on stage. I think it's such an important part of society in our lives.

I'm so excited, both as an actor and an audience member, to be able to start getting back and involved in theatre again.

Why should people book tickets to Private Peaceful?

I think it's such an important story. It's a wonderful tale about these two brothers and it's a story of hope. It's realistic, it's not sugar-coated, it shows this harrowing journey, but there's also some comedy moments and heartstring moments too.

It's a beautiful story with beautiful words by Michael Morpurgo and Simon Reade, and we'd love you to come and see us!

Private Peaceful runs at the Garrick Theatre on 7-22 November

Photo credit: Eve Dunlop

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From This Author Eleni Cashell