Pros: Excellent across the board. Performances, choreography, music, lighting, sound all come together to create a poignant 90 minutes of theatre.
Cons: Don’t be put off by thinking this will be an amateurish youth production. This is up there with the best of them and better than many.
The National Youth Theatre (NYT) was established in 1957 in order to train young theatre technicians and performers aged 14-25. It has helped form the careers of some of our current shining stars such as Dame Helen Mirren, Colin Firth, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Derek Jacobi and many others. The Ambassadors Theatre is hosting their current showcase of five productions.
I went along to see Private Peaceful which began life as a novel by feted author Michael Morpugo, best known for War Horse, which has become a best-selling book, film and stage show. It follows the story of Tommo Peaceful and his older brothers Charlie and Big Joe, from their childhood in the British countryside, their love for local lass Molly and their shared experiences of World War I. The piece begins in the war-torn trenches before Tommo takes us back to his early years – the school years complete with headmaster and cane, the story of Big Joe and his learning difficulties, the death of their father and how their mother managed to hold the family together single-handedly but with a little help from the dreaded Grandma Wolf. We see both Tommo and Charlie fall under the spell of Molly and Tommo’s despair when she becomes pregnant with Charlie’s baby. We follow them through the announcement of war, through their training and into the sodden, rat-infested trenches of Belgium and France.
With few props at their disposal (some chairs and a couple of trunks) the ensemble transform the stage from school room to the frontline and provide many of the sound effects themselves including the dreaded swish of the headmaster’s cane. There are lighter moments including a splendid cameo of a lost pilot landing to find his bearings. The recruiting officer manages to be both entertaining and sinister as he cleverly persuaded the young men to sign up and fight for their country. Many of the cast took more than one role but coped well with this and there was no confusion of characters. I should also mention the clarity of diction and projection of vocals as everyone was wonderfully crisp.
War scenes were handled well with shelling sound effects and staccato beams of white light creating sad and horrific tableaux. The ending was shocking and I felt as though a minute of silence would have been appropriate to fully absorb the impact and to pay respects for all the fallen souls.
Any thoughts or expectations of this being a juvenile or amateur production were quickly dispelled in this totally professional experience that the cast, crew and NYT should be rightly proud of.
Original Author: Michael Morpugo
Adapted by: Simon Reade
Director: Paul Hart
Booking Until: 28th November 2014
Box Office: 08448 112334
Booking Link: https://www.theambassadorstheatre.co.uk/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=5E0ABE4A-65EB-4856-8EAB-FA144CD73BB2