Michael Morpurgo’s moving and powerful WWI drama, Private Peaceful, revisits the horrors of the trenches which were home to his earlier, award-winning work, War Horse.
In the year that we commemorate The Great War the work, aimed at younger audiences, has been adapted as a stage play by Simon Reade and is touring.
Next week it plays Aylesbury Waterside Theatre for five daytime performances.
Here Reade, who is also directing, talks about the production.
Said Simon: “When you take a novel and put it into the theatre, you have to make it work as a piece of theatre.
“So, of course, you are faithful to the original spirit of a work, but sometimes a great piece of literature isn’t going to make a great piece of theatre.
“This is a rites of passage story with lots of dramatic vignettes along the way.
“It is about a young boy growing up; it’s also about the little man fighting against, or fighting within, something that the state and the world order is imposing upon him.
“The most important aspect that people will notice has changed is the ending”.
Private Peaceful, which relives the life of Private Tommo Peaceful, is a one-man show starring Sherlock actor Paul Chequer.
Simon said the play worked because everything was seen from Tommo’s perspective. “Tommo conjures all this up in these last hours of his life.
“I think that the most faithful way of adapting this for the stage is to do it as a one man show where he creates everything for his and the audiences’ very eyes.
“It speaks directly to the experiences of somebody who’s gone from pre-pubescence, to pubescence, through adolescence and into young adulthood.
“The reason that the First World War has always resonated with young people is that a lot of young people were the cannon fodder, dying for a cause that they really didn’t understand.
“It touches all sorts of political and emotional buttons in young people.
“Connected with that of course, is that this has happened in the context of the latest war in Iraq, where young people, as young as teenagers, died for the political ends of America, Saddam Hussein, Britain and the rest of the European Allies.
“There’s an immediate connection with young men, and now women, going off to war.
“You can take a classic war and superimpose it on the present, without being too crass about it.
“This is the kind of theatre that you can imagine somebody doing in their own bedroom. Chucking their bed over and saying, ‘now this is a trench’, or sitting on a box and one moment they’re at home and the next they’re in the middle of a market square.
“It’s non-literal theatre and children have the imagination to make that leap. And for adults watching it, it reawakens your childlike imagination; it has a young spirit about it”.
Why adapt this for theatre not TV?
“There’s a magical alchemy in theatre where you get excited by the artifice of it. You get transported on extraordinary journeys of the imagination with very few tricks, by the power of the word.
“There’s something brilliant about the imagination and the transformation that happens in theatre where you’re not spoon-fed. You have to actively engage with it.
“I think it would be naive to say any one particular play can have that effect.
“We’ve played to lots of adults. It’s quite a rare thing that adults are very moved by the play in a way that they don’t expect to be.
“When you think back to when we were twelve, we were idealistic. Good theatre can make you tap into the idealism we had before we all became pragmatic”.