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Peter Caulfield: 'Cuts to arts funding mean we're losing a generation of talent'

The Jesus Christ Superstar actor will perform in the new adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Peter Caulfield
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Actor Peter Caulfield has had a packed career, working on pieces such as Our House, Enron, and, most recently, playing the role of Herod in the Open Air Theatre revival of Jesus Christ Superstar for two consecutive years. His TV appearances include Channel 4's Cucumber and Doctor Who.

He now stars as Mr Tumnus in Sally Cookson's adaptation of C S Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, newly devised by the company with puppetry and silk work at the West Yorkshire Playhouse Quarry theatre. We chatted to Peter about his career to date and what makes this new version of the Narnia classic so different to the rest.

West Yorkshire Playhouse is doing an in-the-round production for the first time. This isn't your usual C S Lewis adaptation. It gives it a sort of three dimensional, interactive feeling. We've got 1200 audience members instead of the usual 800, so it's going to feel like a massive arena in there not just on the stage but above it, where we create these huge hanging forests of Narnia.

There's a lot of pressure playing Mr Tumnus. He's the first person Lucy Pevensie (and the audience) encounter after going through the wardrobe and that's been a tricky section to get right – transforming the stage from a house into this magical winter landscape using these huge reams of material. So that's been a real challenge, but we use aerial silks and puppetry... I'd say more but I don't want to give it away and spoil the magic!

Everyone has their own memory of the book. It's been interesting to hear everyone's experiences with it. I never realised it'd been around since the 1960s and when you read it for the first time you assume you're the first person to have read it. It's timeless. I even saw the original BBC TV show, and that got me hooked on the books.

Sometimes the rehearsal process can be a bit overwhelming. Everyone's in the room at the same time in this hive of energy where every point is equally valid. Sally [Cookson] and designer Rae Smith (War Horse) are the dream team to work with. People make suggestions and Sally encourages voices to be heard. We wanted it to be our version of the story so learning and meeting the characters has been really important.


We approached Jesus Christ Superstar as if it were a brand new musical. We gave it a real rock-chic vibe., and listened to music like The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album – which was written around the same time as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were making JCS. So we got back to the roots the show had come from. I never thought I'd play Herod, you always imagine him as some sort of hunky King.

I had the funniest moment in my career during an audition for Jamie Lloyd. We were running around the Arts Theatre being shouted at by choreographer Ann Yee and this one guy in camo trousers thought it'd be cool if he did a Matrix-style flip off a brick wall. He ran into the wall, stuck his foot out...and his leg went straight through into the next room. He was stuck there. We all fell apart laughing.

My love of theatre started while in a youth group with Adam Penford and Rosalie Craig. It was a part-council funded organisation called Nottingham Education Theatre, and it gave us the freedom to learn how to devise, experiment and create theatre together. It's a shame funding is being taken out of organisations like that – there are inner city children now at comps who won't have the opportunities that proved invaluable to me. Considering when people like Adam do so many cool things at the Nottingham Playhouse. We might lose a whole generation of talent.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 6 December to 27 January with previews from 29 November.