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Truly, madly, busy: Juliet Stevenson answers call of duty in War Horse

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IT’S been a whirlwind couple of years for actress Juliet Stevenson.

She’s been on the stage in London’s West End, filming for the screen and narrating audio books, not to mention campaigning – all while juggling the challenges that come with being a mother of two.

“It’s been a little bit crazy,” she said. “I’ve been working non-stop so I’m just looking forward to having a few months back home to catch up, put a bit of paint on the walls, and do the things I haven’t had time for in a very long time.”

However, before she puts her feet up, the star of Truly, Madly, Deeply and Bend It Like Beckham will take to the stage to tell a story close to her heart.

Alongside author Michael Morpurgo, Juliet is co-narrating War Horse: The Concert, which comes to Edinburgh’s Usher Hall next Sunday.

The reading will accompany a score performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, along with video artwork featuring drawings by Rae Smith.

The captivating novel, about a boy’s mission to bring his beloved horse Joey back from the frontline, has touched the hearts of millions with its tale of deep friendship surviving amid the horrors of war.

It has already been transformed into both a stage show by the National Theatre and a film by Steven Spielberg.

“We did a performance in Coventry Cathedral earlier this year and it was amazing,” said Juliet.

“The cathedral was destroyed by German bombs. The whole city was annihilated.

“Through the glass walls you can see the remains and doing the concert there was very moving.

“It’s a beautiful place but the horror of war is evident.”

She added: “This show involves working with an orchestra, which is thrilling – and emotional.

“Sometimes you get so involved in something, you just fill up.

“I always try not to cry but I might have shed a little tear.”

For BAFTA nominee Juliet, 62, it’s a very personal performance.

Not only is she narrating a story which she read to her children when they were younger, but she is working with a close friend.

“It’s an absolute pleasure to work with Michael,” she said. “He used to be a history teacher and really brings this knowledge to his books to bring them alive.

“What’s great about the concert is that it’s so accessible. Everybody will enjoy it, whether they’re six or 106. In fact, my six-year-old great nephew is coming to see me when we take it to Leeds and I think he’s going to love it.”

Juliet, who has family in the Scottish Borders, is looking forward to spending time in Edinburgh.

“I have a love affair with the city – and especially this summer when we came up for the Fringe.

“My son brought two shows to the Festival and my daughter had one. I don’t know yet if they’ll follow in my footsteps. If they do, it’s exciting, but worrying too as it’s an extremely difficult industry to survive in.

“I just want them to do what makes them happy.”

Recently returning home to her children after months filming in France for the second series of Riviera has been a welcome move for Juliet.

“It’s been a busy year. I was in the West End playing both Mary, Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth I in a production of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart.

“And I’ve just finished filming Riviera, which comes out next year.

“I’ve been coming and going like crazy, jumping on the plane as soon as I’m done so I can come home and see the kids. Well, they’re not kids any more. Now they’re 17 and early 20s.

“I love babies and I used to think I would be sad when they got older, but it is fascinating watching them grow up. They teach you so much and keep you in touch with so much – and they no longer let you get away with anything!

“But it’s hard because then the world happens and you just have to help them to cope with that.

“The sleepless nights are long behind us, but now I can’t go to bed until the last child is in and the door is locked – even if I have to get up at 5am!”

n Visit usherhall.co.uk for tickets

War Horse, Usher Hall Edinburgh, 18 November

IT’S been a whirlwind couple of years for actress Juliet Stevenson.

She’s been on the stage in London’s West End, filming for the screen, narrating audio books, not to mention campaigning – all while juggling the challenges that come with being a mother-of-two.

“It’s been a little bit crazy,” she said.

“I’ve been working non-stop for the last two-and-a-half years so I’m just looking forward to having a few months back home to catch up, put a bit of paint on the walls, and do the things I haven’t had time for in a very long time.”

However, before she puts her feet up, the BAFTA nominee will take to the stage to tell a story close to her heart.

Juliet is co-narrating with author Michael Morpurgo in a live performance of his heart-breaking story, War Horse, which comes to Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on November 18.

Alongside the narration is specially composed music by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and live drawing by artist Rae Smith.

The captivating novel, about a boy’s mission to bring his beloved horse Joey back from the frontline, has touched the hearts of millions with its tale of deep friendship surviving amidst the horrors of war.

It has been transformed into both a stage show by the National Theatre and a film by Steven Spielberg.

And now, in the month of marking the centenary of the end of the conflict, War Horse is being returned to its original conception.

“We did a performance in Coventry Cathedral earlier this year and it was amazing,” Juliet said.

“The cathedral was destroyed by German bombs. The whole city was annihilated.

“Through the glass walls you can see the remains and doing the concert there was very moving.

“It’s a beautiful place but the horror of war is evident.”

She added: “This show involves working with an orchestra which is thrilling – and emotional.

“Sometimes you get so involved in something, you just fill up.

“I always try not to cry but I might have shed a little tear.”

For Juliet, best known for her parts in Truly, Madly Deeply and Bend It Like Beckham, it’s a very personal performance.

Not only is she narrating a story that she read to her children when they were younger, but she’s working with Michael, a close friend.

“It’s an absolute pleasure to work with Michael,” she said. “He used to be a history teacher and really brings this knowledge to his books to bring them alive.

“One of his many talents is that he’s a great storyteller and this seems to capture everybody’s imagination.

“What’s great about the concert is that it’s so accessible. Everybody will enjoy it, whether they’re six or 106.

“In fact, my six-year-old great nephew is coming to see me when we take it to Leeds and I think he’s going to love it.”

Juliet, who has family in the Scottish Borders, is looking forward to spending some time in Edinburgh.

“I have a love affair with the city – and especially this summer when we came up for the Fringe.

“My son brought two shows to the Festival and my daughter had one.

“I don’t know yet if they’ll follow in my footsteps.

“If they do, it’s exciting, but worrying too as it’s an extremely difficult industry to survive in.

“At the end of the day, I just want them to do what makes them happy.”

Recently returning home to her children after months filming in France for the second series of Riviera has been a welcome move for Juliet.

“It’s been a busy year.

“I was in the West End playing both Mary, Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth I in a production of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart.

“And I’ve just finished filming Riviera, which comes out next year.

“I’ve been coming and going like crazy, jumping on the plane as soon as I’m done so I can come home and see the kids.

“Well, they’re not kids anymore.

“Now they’re 17 and early 20s.

“I love babies and I used to think I would be sad when they got older, but it is fascinating watching them grow up.

“They teach you so much and keep you in touch with so much – and they no longer let you get away with anything!

“But it’s hard because then the world happens and then you just have to help them to cope with that.

“The sleepless nights are long behind us, but now I can’t go to bed until the last child is in and the door is locked – even if I have to get up at 5am!”

War Horse, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, November 18

Get tickets at usherhall.co.uk