Arts Reviews

“Full Of Small Decisions And Details That Really Added To The Authenticity And Emotion Of The Story” – Theatre Review: Private Peaceful @Nottingham Playhouse

Hannah Walton-Hughes

The touring production of Michael Morpurgo’s award-winning novel Private Peaceful arrived at the Nottingham Playhouse on 12th February, and will run through to the 26th February. Hannah Walton-Hughes discusses how the story is transferred from the page to the stage, and comments on some of its key features.

The true brutality of the War, even when portrayed through a fictional story, never fails to shock me.  Private Peaceful tells the heart-breaking story of two brothers, Tommo and Charlie, who are forced to leave the blissful innocence of childhood behind, and face the dangerous life of a soldier. Set during the First World War, Private Peaceful shows how so many people’s lives were destroyed, or changed beyond recognition, as a result of this devastating conflict.

The acting in this production is incredible. Particularly memorable is Dan Rainford’s portrayal of Tommo Peaceful. The change in Tommo’s character, from an innocent young boy following his older brother around, to a 16-year-old man forced to grow up so much sooner than he should have, is illustrated by Rainford perfectly; an emotive and stand-out performance.

The character of Big Joe was also very true to the novel; Robert Ewens shows how Joe reacts and is affected by everything that happens, even when he doesn’t always understand it.

A shiver went down my spine

Whilst the decision to have the actors play multiple roles within the production is a good one overall, there is one very noticeable exception. The character of the terrifying ‘Grandma Wolf’ is passed over far too briefly; she is only on stage for five minutes! In the book, she has a significantly greater role. The decision to have her played by John Dougall, who plays multiple other roles including Mr. Munnings and Sergeant Hanley, is poor. He plays it in a pantomime-esque style that just does not fit well with the genre of production.

One of the most impactful features of this production is the staging, and indeed, the backdrop to the stage. The set is changed very little from start to finish, with planks placed somewhat haphazardly to make a platform centre stage, and barbed wire hanging ominously from the ceiling. At the start of Act Two, two brick walls are placed on either side of the stage, in order to recognise the change in location to the war trenches.

The back of the stage is lit up at various points during the play to decorate the plot. Most poignantly, for me, is at the very end of the play, when the back of the stage suddenly turns bright red. A shiver went down my spine; considering everything that had just happened in the play, it really brought home how much blood was shed during World War One.

Singing doesn’t feel appropriate for such a sombre storyline

Overall, Act Two is significantly stronger than Act One. A feature that lets down particularly Act One, but truthfully the production as a whole, is the singing. As far as I am aware, Private Peaceful was not intended as a musical. Singing doesn’t feel appropriate for such a sombre storyline, and even the relevant singing of ‘Oranges and Lemons’ feels clunky and out of place. Some of the actors’ singing voices are really very weak.

Singing aside, the music and sound effects used in the background of the scenes are very effective. The soft piano music in the scenes between Tommo and Molly are contrasted chillingly with the drum beat that occurs every time the play switches back to the present day, and Tommo waiting for the morning to come.

In reference to the present-day scenes, I think that, whilst they are very intriguing, it would be better to keep them with only Tommo present and delivering his monologue sections. The inserted conversation with the soldier seems a little forced and unnecessary.

The production is full of small decisions and details that really add to the authenticity and emotion of the story. For example, the decision to have Molly and the boys’ mother standing behind them reading their letters to them is tear-jerking. And the humming of wartime songs made my heart break for the characters- despite everything, they still trying to remain positive and keep each other’s spirits up.

This is a very well-done production that I would highly recommend, especially to Michael Morpurgo fans. I just feel that it needs to be more obviously part of its genre: the singing especially broke the fourth wall in a way that was borderline pantomime-style. Nevertheless, I did thoroughly enjoy the performance – well done to everyone who succeeded in putting on such a thought-provoking production.

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Featured image courtesy of David Burns. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.

If you can’t get enough of Impact Reviews, follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like our Facebook page for updates on our new articles.

Arts ReviewsReviews

Leave a Reply