from an original work by Leo Tolstoy
Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Tolstoy's epic novel War and Peace captures the sweeping action and huge cast of the original in two, full-length parts with a combined running time of over five hours. It was first performed on 7 February 2008 at Nottingham Playhouse in a co-production by Shared Experience, Nottingham Playhouse and Hampstead Theatre. Edmundson's earlier, single-part adaptation of the novel, commissioned by Shared Experience and the National Theatre, had been first performed in the Cottesloe auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 25
June 1996; the two-part version restructures and expands on that earlier version.
The two-part play begins in the modern day (2007) in a gallery in the Hermitage Palace in St Petersburg. An English-speaking tourist is admiring paintings of officers fighting against Napoleon during his invasion of Russia in the early nineteenth-century. He asks a security guard about the scenes depicted. Before long, they start to come alive and the tourist is transformed into one of the heroes of the story, Pierre Bezukhov. The play mirrors the novel’s large canvas of experiences and characters focusing on the interconnected sagas of three aristocratic families – the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs and the Kuragins – set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia.
In her 2008 foreword to the published text, Edmundson writes 'When Shared Experience and I first began work on War and Peace, twelve years ago, we all felt that, in an ideal world, we would like to have closer to five hours than three in order to do full justice to the story and really deliver it to an audience. That was not possible at the time. ... It has been hugely rewarding for me to be able to extend and enrich my original work, to restructure and revise it and to build on what I learned the first time around. Amongst many other things, I have been able to take us all to the battle of Austerlitz, to give proper attention to Prince Andrei and to award more time to Pierre's challenging and ever-shifting philosophy.'
The 2008 production of the two-part play was directed by Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale and designed by Angela Simpson. The ensemble cast was Richard Attlee, Marion Bailey, Geoffrey Beevers, Louise Ford, Theo Herdman, Barnaby Kay, Jeffery Kissoon, Des McAleer, Hywel Morgan, Sophie Roberts, Vinette Robinson, David Sturzaker, Simon Thorp, Katie Wimpenny and Jonathan Woolf.
The 1996 production at the National Theatre was directed by Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale and designed by Bunny Christie. The cast was Simeon Andrews, Rakie Ayola, Cathryn Bradshaw, Peter de Jersey, Anne-Marie Duff, David Fielder, Richard Hope, Sam Kelly, Barbara Marten, Jonathan Oliver, Helen Schlesinger, Joe Stone-Fewings, Anny Tobin, Ronan Vibert and John Warnaby.