Writer: Michael Morpurgo
Adaptation: Simon Reade
Director: Simon Reade
“Tonight, I want to believe there’s a heaven, that there’s a life after death, like father said. That death is not a full stop.”
Scamp Theatre’s production of Private Peaceful is already a well-established piece of theatre. Its flyer – justifiably boastful – is adorned with five-star reviews. They aren’t undeserved. Based on Michael Morpurgo’s well-loved novel, Private Peaceful tells the story of Tomo Peaceful, who at 15 goes to the trenches, and who in the play is awaiting his execution for cowardice by firing squad. It is a balanced, considered, well-structured piece of theatre, impeccably performed and beautifully committed.
Andy Daniel’s portrayal of the young Tomo is excellent, well-pitched and with an impressive range. His performance of the language, which has a certain lyricism about it, is musical in just the right manner – well-paced and exceptionally delivered, and celebrates the beauty and rhythm of the well-crafted script through a vocally dextrous delivery underscored by musicianship. It is testament to his performance that for an hour and a half he commands the attention of the audience absolutely. His physicality is well-achieved but selective and limited, which allows an audience to appreciate without the piece losing its focus on storytelling. He also performs an impressive range of the other incidental characters in the story – Charlie Peaceful, Big Joe, Molly, Horrible Hanley and the Sargent Major – each of which are well-formed and convincing, and each distinct from the others. The Sargent Major is a particular highlight, capturing the unnervingly manipulative patter of war propaganda in human form.
Technically, the production impresses. The set is sparse but era-specific, props are era-specific and costume is excellently designed. Altogether, the individual elements tie together to establish well the First World War era. The lighting becomes more competent as the play progresses – early on it is acceptable but not really striking; later the lighting plot really comes into its own. It is overall subtle in the best way.
Scamp’s adaptation is an immaculate production which touches on sensitive subjects with due deference and with respect, but is still engaging. As a story, it is told exceptionally well, classic storytelling the order of the day. The only criticism I could have is that sometimes the production lacks a certain immediacy, perhaps due to this having been rehearsed and performed over a long duration of time. It is maybe just a little too perfect. That said, it is a wonderful adaptation which captures precisely the naive, terrified innocence of a young man facing the prospect of death, both in the trenches and at the hands of his own comrades.
Runs until 25th August.