Private Peaceful at Tobacco Factory Theatre

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Photo by Farrows Creative

There was always going to be an element of sadness to a story about a young English man facing the firing squad at the hands of his own people, just as the current 100 year commemorations of the start of the Great War are bound to force us to question precisely who benefits from so many men killing each other.

Private Peaceful is Tommo Peaceful, a farm boy from Devon. Forever wracked with guilt at the premature death of his father, he loves his family. His pre-war story is one of innocence, love and wonder. We like him, to be sure; he’s the sort of lad who would do anything for those he is closest to and that’s what, ultimately, leads him to his sickening execution.

To be killed for cowardice, accused of being ‘a worthless man’ is almost beyond belief. Here’s a boy who signed up as a volunteer to prove that he was brave enough to do so. With him, we complete his short military training in Salisbury, we march across France to Ypres, we witness the superior German trenches, we smell the gas, we carry dead men, we hear the lark, we taste the rum (Siegfried Sasson’s “Suicide in the Trenches” is surely referenced here by Michael Morpurgo, the writer of Private Peaceful).

William Troughton performs this alone. Tommo is alone. Even in a Belgian bar with hundreds of trench-weary soldiers, he is alone: they all are. Lost in the horrors that they have experienced, dazed by all that death. This is a necessary monologue, excellently performed by Troughton. I couldn’t give him a standing ovation at the close of the play, didn’t want to let myself go, didn’t want to break down in tears.

And my very nearly 8 year old? I’m not sure yet. She stayed quiet for the duration (75 minutes in two parts) but listening to one man speak for over an hour is difficult for one so young. She said she enjoyed it, understood that this was Tommo’s story, told me about his childhood. But she won’t yet get the subtleties of war. Lucky her.

Yes, a moving piece of theatre. 100 years really isn’t that long ago, is it?

 

Private Peaceful is showing at Tobacco Factory Theatre until Saturday 12th July

 

– Review by Becky Condron

 

 

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Wild Men at The Bristol Old Vic

WildMen_webOn Wednesday 25th June, I went to see the latest performance from this years ‘Made in Bristol’ company, Hotel Echo. ‘Made in Bristol’ is a scheme run by the Bristol Old Vic to support a group of young people to gain skills in theatre production. This performance of ‘Wild Men’ is the culmination of the group’s time at the Old Vic.

We walked into the more intimate setting of the Studio, where the actors were already on the stage and awaiting the hush of the audience after the final patron had filed in. Dressed in red choral robes, we are introduced to the five choristers from Bristol who end up enlisting in the army to fight in the fields of Normandy during the First World War. Throughout the performance, we get to know how their friendship began as boys, and continued to develop and change as they grow into manhood and face the harsh realities of war.

The subject matter of life in the trenches of World War One is always an emotive one. However, seeing the roles played by young people who are of a similar age to the young men who actually would have been going off to war made the performance even more moving and powerful.

The actors’ made great use of limited props, moving effortlessly around the stage and travelling seamlessly from the present day to the past and back again. There was a great use of the choral music, starting off harmonious and melodic as we are introduced to the young choristers, and becoming increasingly discordant as the performance becomes darker and the young soldiers face difficult decisions with no one to guide them. Despite the youth of the actors in the company, the performance was professional and is a great testament to the training and skills these young people gain as part of the ‘Made in Bristol’ experience.

The ending? Well, I won’t give it away, but I took an intake of breath at the very last second, and it was rather a while before I breathed out again.

‘Wild Men’ is on at the Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 28th July, and is well worth watching to see some talented young actors who are sure to go on to bigger and great things.

 

Dumbstruck at The Brewery Theatre Bristol

whale

On Wednesday 18th May, I went to see ‘Dumbstruck’at The Brewery Theatre in Bristol, the award winning latest show from Bristol based company ‘Fine Chisel’.

As I took my seat for the performance, it was clear the rest of the audience also didn’t quite know what to make of the musicians who slowly filed onto the stage and began tuning their instruments, then making odd, otherworldly noises with them. Was this still tuning? Had the performance begun? We all fell silent just in case. With the musicians using their instruments to fine effect to evoke images of the sea, we are introduced to Ted, the central character of our story. From his lonely research outpost somewhere near Alaska, he discovers the call of the loneliest whale in the world, a whale he calls 52, because of the unusual pitch of its call. 52 hertz to be precise. They say every day is a school day. Well, today was for me, as I learnt that most other whales usually vocalise at between 15 – 20 hz. The whale in our story is based on a real whale that mystified researchers. This creature was discovered by a team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1989. They had been unable to discover its species, so it really has been named ‘the loneliest whale in the world’. Go on, Google it!

The show flits comfortably back and forth between the present in the research outpost and the past, where Ted is a lecturer. He is persuaded by Fiona, a student of his, to help set up a pirate radio station. As the story unfolds, we see this is a decision he ends up regretting. The action is also interspersed with a glimpse into Ted’s childhood and his close relationship with his uncle Mal, a vicar who is in the middle of a crisis of faith.

‘Fine Chisel’ make probably the best use of the small stage of The Brewery Theatre I have seen a theatre company make. The show had the potential to appear messy and chaotic as there was so much going on, but they managed to keep things snappy, precise and engaging. They made particularly interesting use of chalk and props, including some wonderful puppetry and audience participation with a ukulele. No, really! Music and theatrical performance were blended seamlessly. It was not a show with songs, it was a show where the music was an integral part of the plot, conveyi
ng messages, humour, the melancholy of Ted in his isolation, the loneliness of the whale, and the joy and freedom of Fiona as she is finally able to play her music and find her voice. For me, the stand out musician was the Irish, red-headed
, female sax player, who REALLY made me regret I gave up playing music after a lame dalliance with the recorder.

The show is a poignant reflection on the inability to communicate. We learn how whales are able to communicate over great distances, yet the humans in our story struggle to communicate, to raise their voices, to make meanings clear or to end their isolation. I left the theatre feeling reflective, and the feelings it evoked, particularly how it immersed me in the sounds of the sea, will stay with me for a while.

‘Dumbstruck’ is on at The Brewery theatre in Bristol until Saturday 21st of June, and you really should catch it if you can.

Reviewed by Karen Blake