Private Peaceful

The program for this show presented by Beacon Theatre Group points out that this group of youngsters will be the first generation to grow up with no survivors of the First World War still alive. Taking as a given that we should never be allowed to forget the horrors of that pointless and bloody fiasco, this young company go about their task with enthusiasm, commitment and no little talent.Simon Reade’s play, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, tells the story of the two Peaceful brothers and the heartbreaking tragedy that befalls them and their family. The dramatic device employed sees Tommo, the younger of the brothers, awake all night, alone, near the front line in France. He is counting the seconds till death. In flashback we hear the story of his hard, but love-filled childhood, and how he and his brother came, like so many boys, to be on the front line. The large cast take on multiple roles with varying degrees of success. These are very young performers (some as young as 10 or 11, I’m guessing) and of course it shows sometimes. There’s some shuffling and looking awkward and, inevitably, some line fluffing. But the central characters are very strong. Ed Hawes as older brother Charlie brings the requisite cockiness and bravado to his character, and Georgina Reddington is strong as the boys’ long suffering mother. But it is Alex Westbrook as the central character of Tommo who drives this show. For such a young actor he is utterly truthful, and unlike some of the others always in the moment (which is just as well as he is on for the entire play!). In a way this startling performance slightly unbalances the piece, as it highlights the deficiencies in some of the others. On the other hand an actor of this calibre is absolutely essential in this role.Westbrook takes us through his story compellingly, and by the time we got to the final moments and the twist in the tale that I didn’t see coming, audible sniffles were heard all around the packed auditorium. People were, of course, not only crying because of the performance, but because they were bring forcibly reminded of the sheer, bloody-minded futility of that war. It’s one thing to be killed in combat, but another to be sent over the top knowing you were likely to be shot within seconds, and that “desertion” brought a firing squad often composed of one’s friends. Some of the young lads who died in France back then were not much older than these kids.I’ve now seen several plays by young people this Fringe, all dealing with huge subjects like this and all carried off with commitment and truth. Some of the other stuff I’ve viewed by older actors has centred on the dysfunctional society we live in now, the culture of celebrity, of self, of therapy, of me, me, me, me, me. Should the young men who died at Ypres and The Sommes be able to view this navel-gazing and angst ridden nonsense, they might wonder what their sacrifice was all about.

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The Blurb

War is wrong. Two brothers, growing together, sharing hardship, love and fun are thrust into the battlefields of WW1, bringing horrors beyond imagination. Morpurgo's chilling tale of shattered dreams and battered hopes. ***** 'Awe-inspiringly tremendous' (ThreeWeeks).

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