Theatre Review: Private Peaceful

The Drama Barn is transformed this week into a World War One bunker as checks out Dramasoc’s latest production

James Chetwell in Private Peaceful. Photo Credit: Gareth Young

The Drama Barn’s latest production is an intimate and poignant portrayal of Michael
Morpurgo’s war-time story, Private Peaceful, directed by Henry Longstaff. Staged as a one-
man dramatic monologue, the audience is drawn into the memories of Tommo’s upbringing in the English countryside, as he awaits the morning in war-torn France. It is an adaptation that has been delicately executed; it is full of detail and nuance and is overflowing with raw emotion.

James Chetwood rises effortlessly to the challenge,
consistently holding his audience’s attention from start to finish with dynamic and energetic acting.

To place one actor in front of a room of people, hoping to entertain them for an hour
and forty minutes, is ambitious. Yet, James Chetwood rises effortlessly to the challenge,
consistently holding his audience’s attention from start to finish with dynamic and energetic acting. There is not one moment in which he slackens the pace; he weaves through the narrative, fully-committed to the performance at every moment, as Tommo says, ‘to the roots of his hair, to his very toenails.’ Throughout the play, Chetwood slips into twenty-six individual characters, both central and peripheral, all of which are as clear and persuasive asthe next. The depth of character in each part is clearly much more extensive than the audience perceives, illustrating the comprehensive work put in behind the scenes by both cast and crew, as each role has its own accents, gestures and subtleties. The effect is a polished and convincing show, in which the transitions between the characters are clean-cut and easy to follow.

James Chetwell in Private Peaceful. Photo Credit: Gareth Young

Contrasting the detail of character is the simplicity of staging. Far from reducing the
realism of the piece, the minimal set serves to remind the audience that, despite the
changing narratives, we remain inside Tommo’s head throughout. All the required props are onstage before the audience walks in. We enter to the sight of a uniformed man curled up on a bed, back facing us, with a chair at his feet and a helmet hooked comfortably over the bedhead. It is then thrilling to watch the chair transform into an aeroplane and the bed
become a trench, just as Chetwood himself transforms from character to character. The
stage is our oyster, as objects and actor surge from one end to the other, brought to life
with well-placed soundscapes and lighting, designed by Nathan Billis. The costume is an
interesting detail that boasts an authentic 1930s tin helmet and a replica of a First World
War soldier’s uniform. Beyond the costume’s uniformity, there is something child-like in it, whether it be the braces or the heavy boots, that also functions to portray Tommo’s
youthfulness, an element that expresses the conflict between innocence and adulthood
within the play.

Although set in the early twentieth century, Private Peaceful still strikes a chord with
its modern audience. Director Henry Longstaff comments that “the most important part of
this story is recognising the individual, personal stories of war that are often lost in the
politics and statistics that we are exposed to in the media.” Above and beyond politics, this
play is about people and remembrance. The audience is drawn intimately into just one of
many war narratives, the emotions of which, one hundred years on, still leave an imprint on every generation.


9/10

Private Peaceful continues to run in the Drama Barn until the 4th of February. Tickets available on the door.

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