Theatre Review: Private Peaceful

Words by Melissa Blease
Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 16 April

“I want time to stop so that tomorrow never comes, so that dawn will never happen.” What might inspire a person to utter such a line: dread? Fear? Desperation? Or, that wonderful moment when you very first fall in love, and you simply want time to stand still…?

This brand new, memorably evocative staging of Michael Morpurgo’s award-winning 2003 novel Private Peaceful will leave you considering how, why and/or when one might wish for a delayed dawn for a long time after the applause has died down. 

The drama details the journey of Thomas (‘Tommo’) Peaceful and his elder brother Charlie from the untimely death of their father through their tough rural childhood, early adolescence, young love (for the same girl, as it happens)… and, eventually, the harrowing surroundings of the First World War trenches. Largely told from Tommo’s perspective, the Peaceful brothers’ tale is a testament to loyalty, kinship, courage, redemption and the true meaning of honour, sustained and supported by issues around poverty, tragedy, trauma, the brutality of war and the true meaning of freedom; yup, we’re very much on Big Dramatic Theme territory here, for sure. But Simon Reade’s sensitive adaptation of Morpurgo’s epic, captivating story coupled with Ellie White’s skilful, imaginative direction of an extraordinarily synergistic cast make even the most melancholic momentous moments magical. 

As the brothers at the heart of the action, Daniel Rainford wins hearts and minds as the thoughtful, troubled, sensitive Tommo, his identity growing stronger and stronger as he bounces off Daniel Boyd’s sanguine, charismatic Charlie – their personalities may be disparate, but their loyalty to one another is palpable, their fraternal bond vividly manifest from the off. Meanwhile, the roles of the various characters who bring Tommo and Charlie’s tale to life are artfully swapped and shared between just five other multi-tasking actors who do an exemplary job of introducing us to 35+ key figures who carry the brothers’ tale along, from Mother and Father Peaceful and gentle third brother Joe to love interest Molly by way of school teachers, friends, the vicar, a certain ‘toothless old lady’ and various members of the Armed Forces. 

Throughout the whole, engrossing production, Lucy Sierra’s intelligently imaginative set seamlessly jolts us twixt the pastoral paradise of the Devon countryside and the claustrophobic horror of the WW1 trenches, supported by light and soundscapes that add super-sensory redolence to time and place. 

As that opening quote continues, “tonight, more than any other night, I want to feel alive”  –  after spending an evening in the company of Private Peaceful, you will. 

Private Peaceful, Theatre Royal Bath, until 16 April;

Featured image: Daniel Boyd, Liyah Summers, Daniel Rainord, Emma Manton | Photo credit: Manuel Harlan