BWW Reviews: PRIVATE PEACEFUL, Birmingham Rep, May 14 2014
Award-winning children's author Michael Morpurgo has been pushed into the forefront since 2007 since his stage adaptation of War Horse was produced by the National Theatre to worldwide success. It is easy to forget that Morpurgo has written over 100 books for children since 1976; one of which is Private Peaceful, winner of the Blue Peter Book of the Year, showing at the Birmingham Rep Theatre this week.
This production focuses on Private Tommo Peaceful who is a young British soldier fighting in the First World War. He retells poignant moments and events in his life as the following morning; he is to be shot by the firing squad for cowardice.
There is barely anything on stage by means of set - only an iron bedstead with a mattress and a pile of costumes in which the actor uses throughout the show. This along with a simple backdrop is all there is. This imagery was taken from a photograph found at the Imperial War Museum shown in the programme. The lighting design by Wayne Dowdeswell lends itself well to the various settings during Tommo's storytelling - even if some of the re-lighting didn't quite seem 100% ready due to a couple of rogue moving lights!
There are two actors credited who share the role of Tommo - Paul Chequer and Andy Daniel. After witnessing the 1 hour 40 minute show where all eyes are on this one performer every second, it is more than apparent why there is an alternate. The amount of focus and energy required to deliver the material and hold the audience's attention throughout is quite astonishing. Andy Daniel is the actor that I had the pleasure of watching and he gave a faultless performance. I was gripped from the moment he came onstage and his storytelling is captivating. Watching a one-man show can be tiresome in some instances because not enough is going on but the power and emotive qualities within Morpurgo's writing shines throughout. Simon Reade also had the unenviable task of directing the show and much of the responsibility falls at his feet when ensuring the staging doesn't lack energy or drive. He certainly succeeds in making sure this doesn't happen.
Private Peaceful runs at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday 17 May and continues touring until the end of June.