Private Peaceful

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 Private Peaceful is disappointing as it does not live up to the precedent set by Morpugo’s book. Visually, stylistically, and technically interesting, the play falls short in building up the relationships between the characters, which is central to the emotional payoff that both the text and subsequent adaptation require.

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.

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Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

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The Blurb

The Peaceful brothers, Tommo and Charlie, have a tough rural childhood facing the death of their father, financial hardship and a cruel landlord. 

Their fierce loyalty to each other pulls them through, until one day they both fall for the same girl. And then the Great War comes.  We join 18 year old Private Tommo Peaceful in the trenches as he tells us a story of courage, devotion and sibling rivalry on what may be his last night on earth. 

Acknowledged by Michael Morpugo as his favourite work, this professional premiere is a new ensemble-version by Simon Reade. It tells the story of a country lad fighting a war he doesn’t understand for people he cannot respect. 

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