Private Peaceful

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Possibly the most dramatic start to a play I have been to so far, therefore be prepared. It opens near the end of the story where Private Thomas ‘Tommo’ Peaceful has one night remaining before he is executed.

Tommo doesn’t want to sleep, he wants tomorrow to never come. He wants to spend the night reliving his life’s memories. Consequently the play are his memories interspersed with the passing of time on this night.

We learn a lot about Tommo. He grew up with his loving family in a rural environment and the countryside was their playground with their friends, including Molly whom he has a soft spot for. His brother Charlie is his best friend and everyone looks after brother Big Joe. Their father dies in an accident which haunts Tommo as he blames himself. With the death of his father comes hardship as the family struggle to put food on the table, their landlord is unsympathetic and mother must work for him to stay in the home. Their love and loyalty for each other keep them going. Charlie & Molly fall in love and she falls pregnant as WW1 breaks out. Charlie and Tommo sign up, Tommo is not old enough so they pretend to be twins.

This is where we learn more about the beginning of the WW1 in the trenches and how hard it was. It was brutal in so many ways and we find out why Tommo has one night left. No spoilers here.

The fixed set was incredibly versatile, from portraying the memories playing in the river, to the French trenches 50 yards from the German line. It seemed to provide so much more space for the actors to run about and depict the story and not be confined. The sound and lighting added high levels of appropriate ambiance for war time trenches to give the sense of fear to the audience.

The actors were superb and did an amazing job of playing multiple characters through such a difficult traumatic construct that is war.


Daniel Boyd – Charlie
Daniel Rainford – Tommo
John Dougall – James plus many others
Emma Manton – Mother plus others
Liyah Summers – Molly plus others
Tom Kanji – Jimmy plus others
Robert Ewens – Big Joe plus others

Award-winning ‘Private Peaceful’ was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, won the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Blue Peter Book Award. Acknowledged by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse, The Butterfly Lion) as his favourite work, this thrilling new ensemble retelling by Simon Reade, directed by Elle While, explores the lengths a young soldier will go to, to fight for what is right.

This review first appeared on GrapevineLIVE

Photo Credits: Manual Harlan

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