Review: Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, adapted & directed by Simon Reade, New Wolsey Theatre, until October 1

Private Peaceful which is being performed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.

Private Peaceful which is being performed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich. - Credit: Archant

That a single actor can sustain attention from a predominantly young audience for two hours is a tribute to both the writing and the delivery. Private Peaceful was written for older children but its story and message is for everyone and lone actor Andy Daniel brought home the story of one young soldier that spoke for many more.

Private Tommo Peaceful’s joyful Devonian childhood, his relationship with his brothers, the death of his father, and the dawn of his love for Molly, gave the first half a spring in its step with some humorous lines for the good measure. But in 1914 war is declared and the mood changes. The recruiting men come to town. ‘Who do you want to see marching through your town, us or the Hun?’ they ask the vulnerable young men while an old woman stands on the sidelines, taunting Tommo and his ilk that those who do not enlist will be branded cowards. Tommo and his brother Charlie volunteer, leaving behind their farm jobs, their family and, above all, the lovely Molly.

Tommo is under-aged but he and Charlie scrape through as twins, so beginning their final adventure. We know it ends badly as the re-living of Tommo’s life begins as he awaits the dawn firing squad.

No adult could fail to be moved by Tommo’s story and what lay behind it. Even those in the audience too young to take in the full implications of the horror that was the First World War were captivated by the unfolding drama, and Andy Daniel himself was visibly affected as the final shot rang out, yet he has given this extraordinary performance very many times.

The fun and humour of Tommo’s schooldays and adolescence was nowhere more contrasting than in the mud that oozed through their young toes while sitting beside the river with Molly at their side, and the filthy mud of the trenches that harboured death, rats and lice. If in this centenary year of remembrance you see no other, see this.

Carol Twinch

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