Simon Reade could not have chosen a better time to have adapted Michael Morpurgo’s war novel for the stage. Private Peaceful takes a different route to many WW1 plays, highlighting the unbroken bond between brothers and a desire to return to rural peace. Having devoured the book as a teenager, I was eager to relive the emotionally charged story.
The play needs no grand set: rather, the simplistic backdrop of a countryside landscape allows for easy transition between Devon and France. The lighting cues kept the staging interesting, as, apart from a metal frame bed (later used as a trench) and a soldier’s uniform, the stage is pretty bare. The choice to constantly refer back to Tommo waiting through the night was well mastered and did not stilt the flow of the play.
Andy Daniel is an excellent talent in this production, having to multi-role all of the characters. His Tommo is a sympathetic portrayal, thoughtful and a little dim but utterly endearing. Despite such flawless multi-role0-ng, however, I feel that Private Peaceful might have benefitted from an ensemble cast. Daniel had each character perfected, but with only one stage presence it was hard to garner any real chemistry between the brothers, which as the story goes on is the pivotal relationship in the play. This is a personal qualm, but at some times the action on stage was a little lacking from having only Daniel alone on stage.
Tommo’s final monologue is strong and commanding, and had the audience with bated breath awaiting the inevitable conclusion. Reade’s adaptation is a treat for Morpurgo fans, but those who aren’t acquainted with the text, or expecting a large visually busy production, might have a hard time keeping focus.
Private Peaceful is at Underbelly, Bristo Square as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information and tickets, visit the EdFringe website.