Michael Morpurgo penned his highly-acclaimed novel Private Peaceful after apparently stumbling across a grave bearing the name in a burial site in Ypres which contained the mortal remains of 300 soldiers shot for cowardice. Touched at the poignancy of the surname and determined to set the record straight about the bravery of those condemned as craven, Morpurgo wrote the book to educate a younger audience about the horrors of war.
This year, Scamp Theatre mark the centenary of the close of WWI by bringing Simon Reade’s celebrated stage adaptation of the book to the Edinburgh Fringe. In the title (and only) role, we have Andy Daniel, who takes us on an emotional rollercoaster for 75 minutes as he relives the youth and young manhood of Tommo Peaceful, a simple West Country boy who found himself caught up in a conflict far beyond his ken and comprehension.
A one-man show, Private Peaceful sees Daniel embody all of the characters which stepped in and out of Tommo’s short life. Schoolteachers, playground bullies, crushes, drill sergeants and enemy soldiers all come and go with believable fluidity, as Daniel slips in and out of various accents and personas with ease. At the show’s climax, it’s hard to believe that a single man has held the audience so rapt for so long, but it’s testament to the brilliance of the storytelling and Daniel’s acting acumen that the play, like the lives of the eponymous soldier and so many others, is over before we know it.
With minimalist set design and musical accompaniment, the spotlight really is on Daniel for the complete duration, and he delivers beyond expectation. 100 years on from the horrors of The Great War, Private Peaceful is a timely reminder of man’s capacity for both inhumanity and tenderness for his fellow man. Though adapted from a novel for older children, it’s a moving piece of theatre for audiences of all ages.