Private Peaceful – Review

Private Peaceful

It takes a lot to genuinely move me after a lifetime watching hundreds, if not thousands, of stage plays.

But I defy anyone not to be affected by Michael Morpurgo’s WWI compelling drama, Private Peaceful, which is being performed for matinee audiences at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until Saturday.

This is must-see drama in the year that we mark the centenary of the start of The Great War.

With shows starting as early as 11am the intended audiences are young people now on their Easter break.

But it’s as much a play for adults as it is for children, which is probably why another of Morpurgo’s stories, War Horse, is still doing such great business in the West End, on tour and on screen.

What is astonishing about this stage adaptation, directed by Simon Reade, is that the entire 85-minute show is performed by just one actor.

Two share the role. I can’t vouch for Paul Chequer but I was held mesmerised by Andy Daniel at today’s 11am performance.

Morpurgo takes the story of one (very) young man’s war and serves up a bitter condemnation of British army policy that saw the execution, by firing squad, of more than 300 of our own men.

Tommo Peaceful grew up in an idyllic Devon village protected and loved by his elder brother Charlie.

He went to the village school, fell in love with the first girl he met and enjoyed skinny-dipping in the local pond.

But then an arch-duke (whatever one of those is) was killed in somewhere called Sarajevo (wherever that is!) and suddenly British soldiers were marching off to war.

Charlie signs up and Tommo, still only 15, lies to the authorities to join the thousands of children who volunteered for active duty.

Morpurgo says that he was moved to write Peaceful after a visit to Ypres. I took the same trip two years ago and it is life-changing.

The acres of neatly tended gravestones in the military cemeteries make distressing reading.

Not only were many so terribly young when they died for King and country but a lot died for the all the wrong reasons and killed by their own side.

Throughout the play Tommo checks his “wonderful” watch, bequeathed to him by Charlie. It’s only at the denouement that we discover why. I was moved to tears.

Daniel’s turn as the teen soldier is nothing short of extraordinary.

It’s an amazingly powerful and heartfelt performance that takes him from a wide-eyed innocent child to battle-scarred and shell-shocked soldier.

The simple set consists of a wrought-iron day bed that’s modelled on a photo that is now in the Imperial War Museum.

Private Peaceful is a simply told story that is exceptionally well-acted and will leave a lasting impression.

And for anyone interested in the First World War I’d recommend a trip over to Belgium and the Ypres region.

Private Peaceful runs at the Waterside until Saturday and tours until June.

For information on venues go to www.scamptheatre.com

There is also a movie version now out on DVD that stars Richard Griffiths in one of his last roles, Maxine Peake, Jack O’Connell and Frances De La Tour.

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