Private Peaceful, Beacon Theatre Group – Augustine’s
*** (3 stars)
Michael Morpurgo’s multiple award winning novel Private Peaceful is recreated by a cast of around fifteen children (some of whom cannot be much older than ten years of age) in a moving and poignant performance that is haunting from the very beginning. As the audience walked through the entrance we were greeted by several children who were muttering and singing to themselves in timid voices, creating an eerie atmosphere as everyone took their seats.
For those who are familiar with the story, they will appreciate that the Beacon Theatre Group have remained faithful to the tale of protagonist Tommo Peaceful’s journey from an idealistic young boy to a shamed private amongst the horrors of WW1. Creative, but fairly simple stage directions emulate time passing as Tommo reflects upon his life up until the current moment. Every influential moment in Tommo’s life is covered with surprising emotional depth by the young cast, from his first day at school with his brother and idol Charlie to the moment he becomes an uncle.
The best performances come from the main cast who play the Peaceful family as they show potential in their ability as actors, powerfully portraying the pains of losing the father in the family and the tragic effect this has on their way of life. They do occasionally stumble over their lines and fail to project their voices clearly though it is hard to criticize children of this defect. It often felt like attending a school play due to some obviously proud parents listening eagerly and taking photos but it did not take away from the credibility this theatre group deserves.
The subject of WW1 seems to be a grim one for children to be so involved in, yet when they re-enacted a battle in the trenches, sensitivity was abundant, especially from the lead actor who depicts a heart wrenching reaction to his brother’s death by firing squad. Some of the audience could be seen to be weeping quietly and I was impressed that such a young cast could bring such strong emotion to their characters.
I was initially sceptical and worried that this young cast could not do Private Peaceful justice, but I was glad to be proved wrong and would be happy to see other classics taken on by such a promising group.
Augustine’s, 14th August.