Michael Morpugo’s stories about the world wars have for a long time been the gold-standard for children’s books. That is why Simon Reade’s adaptation of
Visually, stylistically, and technically interesting
Set around and during World War I, Private Peaceful centres on the relationship between two brothers, Thomas ‘Tommo’ and Charlie as they grow up in rural Yorkshire. The story follows the development of their inseparable bond as they go on to enlist and fight in the trenches in France. The use of folk songs as transitions between some scenes is a nice change of pace and adds a certain homeliness to the atmosphere, which dramatically changes when war songs are introduced.
The main action is told through a series of flashbacks which combined with Dan Balfour’s sound design is meant to build tension throughout and add a dark and ominous cloud to the scenes of domesticity in Act 1, mostly relying on misdirection. But considering how well known and widely read Morpugo’s works are, this does not work, which means that the end is relatively anticlimactic. The transitions between scenes are mostly clunky, but it is unclear whether this is just to add to the abruptness to the flashforwards. Neill Bettles' movement served to immerse us in the setting and action, mostly to indicate the 'going over the top' fighting of trench warfare, which added a sense of foreboding and immediacy to the performance.
Private Peaceful is a strong play and touches on all the themes associated with World War I, but doesn't say anything that has not already been said about this time period, making it a little dull. It relies on members of the audience not being familiar with Morpugo’s text, which makes the overall production less enjoyable if you are. An interesting attempt at bringing this show to life.