Malvern Festival Theatre – until Saturday 14th May 2022
Reviewed by Julie Bellerby
This Michael Morpurgo’s book, adapted for the stage by Simon Reade, was a thought provoking story of Private Peaceful. You are taken through Private Tommo Peaceful’s, night before watching his brother, Charlie, face the firing squad at dawn for disobeying his commanding officer in the trenches at Flanders in Northern France.
As a young first World War soldier Tommo battles with the injustices of war and recalls his happy early life throughout the night, unable to sleep he remembers the binding connection he has with Charlie. Private Tommo played by Daniel Rainford held the audience’s attention with a spell binding performance, as a troubled young man who’s brother tried to stand up to the futile decision to go over the wall to fight with an obvious outcome of death.
The stage set was innovative with amazing lighting and sound effects of war, designed by Lucy Sierra, Matt Haskins and Dan Balfour.
Tommo’s flashbacks of his life looked at his childhood, he was part of a loving family and his childhood sweetheart Molly. Molly, played by Liyah Summers performance lit up the stage with her portrayal of the young girl who loves both Tommo and his brother Charlie, finally marrying Charlie.
Tommo thinks he was the cause of the death of his father by a falling tree whilst pushing Tommo to safety, who bore the guilt. Just before his killing, Charlie reassures him it was not his fault, and saying he will be someone for his son to look up too.
The play starts with setting the scene of understanding the care free existence then a hard struggle of living in rural England without a father. Tommo has another brother, ‘big’ Joe, played by Robert Ewens, who, as a young child contracted meningitis and did not attend school, staying with his mother each day. The brothers shared a deep bond and when Charlie signed up for the Army the underage Tommo went with him.
Malvern Theatre is a lovely Theatre where you feel cocooned within its walls, which enhances the feeling of looking through the window at the memories of Tommo’s life.
The cast took on the many roles in the production, which was well executed but slightly off putting as each actor could cover up to 13 roles each!
I came away from the Theatre feeling compassion for the soldiers of World War 1 and maybe a little more understanding, as the portrayal of everyday people were thrown into unknown and horrific atrocities with little training and understanding what the reality would be. Definitely a must see production.