Michael Morpugo’s moving story has been wonderfully adapted for the stage to make for engaging viewing no matter their age.

(c)Eve Dunlop

Exploring themes such as war, fear and family, Michael Morpugo’s Private Peaceful just like War Horse captures the horror of war in a heartfelt but honest way that is very moving to watch unfold on stage. This co-production between the Barn Theatre and BoxLess Theatre is filled with energy, emotion and engaging performances that keep the audience thoroughly invested with the way in which the story unfolds.

Private Peaceful follows the story of Tommo, who follows his brother Charlie to battle for World War I by lying about his age and unaware of how unglamorous and terrifying war really is – as so many young people at that time were. Soon Tommo finds himself at the frontline of the fighting and thrown into a very different world than his country upbringing would have suggested.

Adapted by Simon Reade, there is a strong emotional core at the centre thanks to the way in which it flits between the past and present, allowing a very bittersweet feel about the story to shine through as Tommo reflects on his upbringing from the death of his father to the way in which he falls in love with Molly, contrasting with the present day in which he is counting down the hours until dawn. It is all built up very nicely with a great energy – but perhaps in places it would have been nicer if it could linger on certain moments longer.

Alexander Knott’s production is a visual treat – with Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s lighting design proving to be brilliantly effective in capturing the battle scenes in a subtle way, working well with Harry Smith’s sound design to create chilling moments particularly towards the end. It is filled with intimate details about the day to day life that Tommo and Charlie face – in particular creating a farm and school in a subtle way makes the audience feel as though they are there with the characters in a unique way. Throughout it all Knott’s production gradually builds up that sense of urgency that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat.

Equally impressive are the performances at the centre of it all. Emily Costello is superb as Tommo, capturing the character’s developing maturity with great grace and charm. She switches between the childish naivety of the younger Tommo to a mature young man who suddenly realises the pointlessness of war and the shocking way in which it takes the lives of those who are only just beginning to live. James Demaine is equally impressive as not only Charlie but a huge variety of characters slotted in nicely to add extra depth and context, while also providing a lot of the music that enhances the atmosphere nicely.

Private Peaceful is a very humane story, capturing the lives of so many caught up in the terrible conflict that was the Great War. Sensitively told, there will be many who watching this can see something of their own family history reflected in this evocative production.

By Emma Clarendon

Private Peaceful is available to watch until the 2nd May.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐