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