Jonathan Davidson explains how he took an anthology of poetry and transferred it to the stage with The Hundred Years’ War

In The Hundred Years’ War: the Somme to Afghanistan, three actors perform 35 war poems spanning the past century. The poems all derive from Bloodaxe Books’ magnificent anthology of war poetry, expertly compiled by Neil Astley, and include works from the First World War, Second World War, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts around the world. Our performance takes a tiny selection of these poems and puts them on stage in a kind of fusion between poetry and theatre.

My involvement in this type of work goes back nearly 30 years. I saw Bertolt Brecht’s son-in-law, Ekkehard Schall, perform Bertolt’s poems in Leicester in 1986 and his performance stayed with me.

I directed a small performance of poems with two performers at college that same year, but it took another 15 years to be in the position to produce a full performance inspired by the spirit of Schall’s performance.

The Hundred Years’ War is the fifth show of this kind that I’ve produced. For our current production, we auditioned 20 performers and are working with just three; Miriam Edwards, Jill Dowse and Zachary Price.

Selecting 35 or so poems from an anthology of 500 is extremely difficult. They all have merit but we need to think about the practicalities; it would be strange to have only poems from the Second World War or Vietnam. Permission to use each poem also needs to be sought, and of course our three performers have to learn the poems by heart, and learn them with 100 per cent accuracy. There are poems from very different times that seem to speak to each other, that have more impact when placed together.

We’ve had some amazing feedback from our audiences for The Hundred Years’ War. People find it emotionally challenging, no doubt about that, but also gripping and evocative. I truly believe that putting poetry on stage in this way helps people to understand and appreciate these extraordinary works of literature in a whole new way.

• The Hundred Years’ War: the Somme to Afghanistan is at The Old Fire Station, Oxford, on July 18.