From the author of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo, and adapted for the stage by Simon Reade, Private Peaceful follows the story of Tommo Peaceful – a young British soldier who enlists to fight in the Great War alongside his brother, Charlie.
It’s Tommo who does the telling. Alone in a small room, over an evening and into the night, Tommo Peaceful speaks about his upbringing and his family. It’s not an easy life, but Tommo makes the best of it, yet a brutal, modern world is slowly encroaching and when war is declared there’s no question of letting his brother sign up alone.
There’s a reason Tommo is in this room, counting down what first seems like forever until dawn. Yet, even as forever becomes hours and then minutes, he never falls into panic or despair. One of the most moving things about Tommo’s story is the sense his fate was inevitable – he loves his brother unconditionally and would never abandon him.
The small square performance space is used beautifully by Lighting Designer Jason Bovaird, and Sound Designer Justin Gardam – from the feel of an idyllic English countryside, to the bedlam of the Western Front, to each stark return to Tommo’s cell as a clock ticks soft but unrelenting in the background.
Fresh from a fun role as a Foghorn Leghorn-esque, American southern gentleman in Sunday in the Park with George, actor Anthony Craig reaffirms his extraordinary talent with voice and physicality by playing 14 different characters here, all with different ages, genders, and accents.
It would surely be a muddle in less capable hands, but Anthony and Director Terence O’Connell, tell a compelling story. Nothing is rushed, yet neither are they too steady. Tommo lingers on exploring the forest as a child just as he lingers on the horrors of trench warfare.
It’s important we understand his story and despite knowing early on what the only conclusion can be, there’s a tension that builds, drawing the audience further into the tragedy and futility of Tommo’s end.
Private Peaceful is an excellent show, but – considering the current political climate in the UK – perhaps its also a reminder of the dangers when patriotism becomes nationalism, and that it’s invariably the lower classes that pay the first and heaviest price.
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Wednesday 4 September 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 8 September 2019
Information and Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
Image: Anthony Craig stars as Private ‘Tommo’ Peaceful (supplied)
Review: David Collins