Private Peaceful: Lighthouse, Poole. 15th October, 2014
It is a decade now since Michael Morpurgo’s novel Private Peaceful was first adapted for the stage. A heart-rending story highlighting the senselessness, brutality and injustice of the First World War, it gave an unwavering view of the conflict through the eyes of a young soldier facing death at dawn at the hands of a firing squad.
The drama, adapted and directed by Simon Reade, was an instant hit. Now it’s out on the road again on a national tour with Scamp Theatre in conjunction with co-producers Fiery Angel.
It’s a timely revival. For in this centenary year of the start of the war that was supposed to end all wars the subject of the carnage of the western front has a new relevance.
For the dreadful sacrifice of the men, the bigoted and blindly arrogant commanders and the punishment systems they created to keep the troops in line is finally being widely discussed.
In this moving production, once again directed by Reade, we find Private Tommo Peaceful, played by the excellent Andy Daniel, reflecting on his short life during a sleepless night before a 6am appointment with the firing squad.
Daniel captures the mixture of joy, excitement and fear that Peaceful experiences as he recalls his happy childhood in rural Devon; his love for Molly, the girl of his dreams and the first rumblings of war. The darkening mood is subtly conveyed by Wayne Dowdeswell’s lighting while Bill Talbot’s set is both sparse and effective.
By the time Tommo lies about his age to enlist in the Army with his idolised older brother Charlie the audience feels a real sense of foreboding. It’s an impressive performance from Daniel, effortlessly moving from humour to pathos, pride and sheer terror as as Tommo sees his life passing before him and gradually learns the brutal reality of war.
Eventually amid the mud, the blood, the bullets and the madness of the Flanders battlefields, Peaceful finds himself stranded in no-man’s land comforting his dying brother. He disobeys a suicidal order to march directly into the enemy machine guns. His vindictive NCO puts him on a charge. The court martial is cursory. The sentence is death.
Tommo, still only 16-years-old, faces execution, not without fear, but with a calm certainty that the sentence is final. The system will have its way. There is no hope. Sadly 100 years on , though we no longer shoot deserters and dissenters, not a great deal seems to have changed.