Home » Reviews » Private Peaceful, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Private Peaceful, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Michael Morpurgo
Adapted and directed by Simon Reade
★★★★

Pros: It is brilliantly acted and beautifully written.

Cons: Whilst billed for eight years and upwards, I feel age ten is probably more appropriate.

Our Verdict: A wonderful all round show, sadly finished now but we hope for a prolonged run in due course!

Courtesy of The Telegraph

It has been quite some time since I have wholeheartedly joined in a spontaneous standing ovation. It was definitely well-deserved in this production of Private Peaceful. Paul Chequer gives a mesmerising performance as the protagonist, Tommo Peaceful, and his unwaning energy and unfaltering character portrayal is simply wonderful.

The story is adapted from the book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, the one-time Children’s Laureate and multi-award winning children’s author of War Horse and many other works. I haven’t read the book, but my son has recently, and he assures me the script is drawn very closely from the book with some obvious adaptations. This is a very solid foundation for a great script as Morpurgo writes about deep and complex emotions and themes in beautifully digestible ways.

The story is striking in its simplicity: sixteen year old Private Tommo Peaceful, has enlisted in the army to follow his older brother to the front in World War I. When his brother is injured, he disobeys a direct order to leave him in no-man’s-land, is court marshalled, found guilty of cowardice and sentenced to death. The play depicts the night before his final dawn, as he recounts the events in his life that led him to this moment. It’s a beautiful story that begins in rural Devon and ends in front of the firing squad. Themes of friendship, resilience and loyalty run throughout and Peaceful covers the gamut of emotions experienced in such as short lifetime; joy, faith, guilt, betrayal, fear and unfailing love.

The really special aspect of this play is the fact that the entire two-hour performance is delivered solely by Paul Chequer. He is alone on stage throughout and has only a few props to assist him. As he recounts memories from his life from age five to the present day, he delivers dialogue from more than one character with exceptional persuasion, using different accents and body language to delineate who he is portraying. It is really brilliantly done – Chequer’s performance is energetic, consistent, convincing and does not falter throughout the two hours he is on stage. It is riveting from the outset, and at no point does the monologue become boring or wane in interest.

That said, the book and the play are billed for older children, so I asked my kids what they thought. My fourteen year old says it is moving and really sad, particularly as she knows sixteen year old boys and cannot imagine them in Peaceful’s position. My eleven year old says that Paul Chequer is a really talented guy, and he is impressed that Chequer can remember all the lines and portray all the parts so cleverly. When asked in the interval whether she was enjoying it, my eight year old replied that she didn’t have a clue what was going on! When I explained the story and some background into wartime, it was clear she still could not relate to the themes. On this basis, I would suggest that it is more suitable for older children, and this is supported by the fact that it is studied in schools in year six and seven, when children are eleven and twelve.

The audience was almost unanimous in its generous standing ovation for Chequer’s performance. It is hard not to be moved by the story and impressed by Chequer’s talented delivery of Private Peaceful. I love the simplicity and the beauty in what is essentially rather grim and gritty subject matter. This is a wonderful production, and although this run is finished, I truly hope we have not seen the last of it.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Private Peaceful has now finished its run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It was produced by the National Theatre; further information about future performances will most likely be available on their website: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/private-peaceful-at-theatre-royal-haymarket

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