Simon Reade’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful is, to put it simply, a stunning example of small-scale theatre in action. Following the life and childhood of Tommo Peaceful, we get a first-hand glimpse of the horrors of those Belgian trenches in World War I as well as an exploration of love and loss in the many men who had their adult lives cut short – or were denied them at all.
They say less is more, and this show testifies to that fact. It doesn’t employ an all-star cast or invite the use of complex props; the set simply consists of a metal framed bed, a thin mattress and a wooden box in the middle of a stage surrounded on all sides. What the show lacks in physical aids, however, is made up for by the ingenious use of lighting and sound, not to mention the haunting performance put in by George Stagnell – the sole actor in this play. A one man attempt at a story exploring such daunting themes could have been ill-fated, yet Stagnell skilfully takes charge, enacting not only the main character Tommo with vigour but also adeptly bringing to life his brother, the girl he loves and every other character in between. The emotion which he evokes fills the empty space in the room, choking the audience all around him like mustard gas. His portrayal is uncomfortable to watch, but impossible to tear your eyes away from.
This is a theatrical performance which succeeds in remaining unshakably faithful to the themes Morpurgo explored in the book, even if (spoiler alert) it does stray slightly from his original plot. Private Peaceful acts as a monument to all those young men who lost a lifetime to the Great War, and as a reminder that it wasn’t only the enemy which could pose danger to those terrified men in the trenches.
Words: Emily Hay
Private Peaceful, theSpace @ Niddry St, Aug 14-26 (not 20), 4.35pm