POLITICIANS, GENERALS SHOULD SEE THIS PLAY
New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012|
Adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo
Scamp Theatre (UK)
at Soundings - Te Papa, Wellington
From 14 Mar 2012 to 17 Mar 2012
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 15 Mar 2012
originally published in The Dominion Post
War and Shakespeare are two themes running through this year's theatrical offerings at the International Arts Festival. They conjoined in Henry V, which also came to mind during Private Peaceful, a compelling solo play set in the First World War, the war to end all wars, in which a youngDevonshire lad is to be shot for cowardice.
Tommo Peaceful could well be Michael Williams in Shakespeare's play except Tommo never gets the chance to talk to his commanders, only to his brutal sergeant-major; the court martial was over in an hour.
The play starts with Tommo lying on his bed in his cell a few hours before his execution. With simplicity, innocence and a youthful exuberance befitting his background he goes through the major events of his short life: his father's death, his love for his older brother, his schooldays, his attraction to Molly who marries his brother, and his joining the army and the events in an attack across no man's land that led to his court martial.
It's a stark, simply and winningly told story of one young man's short life, and it is not without humour: the plummy voiced pilot of a bi-plane who lands to ask for directions, and Tommo's attempts at school to attract Molly.
It is all held together by Alexander Campbell's marvellous ability to make us care for Tommo and also see all the people that cross his path whether they are two old ladies accusing him of being a coward because he hasn't joined up (he's 15), or, for barely fifty seconds, a scared but compassionate German soldier.
Alexander Campbell is supported by some superior lighting and an exquisite sound design that suggests not only the rapid passing of time (a theme running throughout the eighty minute play) but also the war itself but without overdoing deafening bombardments. The roughly painted board depicting no man's land against a dark and cloudy sky is the only weakness.
However, I wonder what effect Private Peaceful would have had if it had been performed at the smaller and more intimate Downstage. I imagine we would be angrily demanding that all politicians and generals should be forced to see it.
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