Paul T Davies reviews Simon Reade’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book Private Peaceful presented at the Frinton Summer Theatre.
Frinton Summer Theatre
24 July 2018
It’s fitting that the McGrigor Hall, which hosts Frinton Summer Theatre, is opposite the Frinton War Memorial Club, with its memorial to the fallen of both World Wars clearly visible, and fitting that they have sponsored this week’s production. It is also highly appropriate that Private Peaceful is presented to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One. Deftly adapted by Simon Reade from Michael Morpurgo’s classic book, the play is a solo performance as Private “ Tommo” Peaceful takes us from his childhood in Devon, his deep friendship with his elder brother, Charlie, and his love for Molly, who marries Charlie and has given birth to Tommo’s nephew, who is named after him, by the end of the play. Slightly less well known than War Horse, Morpurgo still spares us nothing of the horror of World War One as Tommo signs up at 16 to follow Charlie into the war. But there is a twist to this tale which, even if you know it’s coming, still packs a devastating punch, and one that I don’t wish to reveal.
As Private Peaceful, Will Taylor is a genuine find and gives a charming, compelling and gripping performance that held the audience rapt throughout. He captures perfectly the trials and tribulations of a childhood in the country, (the countryside being almost a character in Morpurgo’s works), the hardship of poverty, and the joy and love of family and friends. With a slight change of physicality, a gesture, he performs every character in the story, each one distinct from the other, and his story telling is crystal clear. As he takes us into war, we see, through his eyes, the sights that Peaceful sees, and a pocket watch is testimony as to how a prop can bring a lump to your throat. The hall fell completely silent in the final section of the play, handled so well by this fine young actor, who chose not to go to drama school but went straight into the profession by touring and learning his craft. He thoroughly deserved the long, appreciative standing ovation for this tour-de-force.
Mike Harris’s sensitive direction is pitch perfect, and I loved the moments when Peaceful came into the auditorium and interacted, in character, with the audience. The best stories are simply told, and the choice of music and the lighting and set design are unfussy and deeply effective. This being Frinton Summer Theatre, the repertory system means there are only a few performances this week. Down by the coast, you will be told the most powerful tale by a hugely talented young actor that will stay with you forever. Don’t miss it!
Until 28 July 2018