Writer: Michael Morpurgo
Adapter: Simon Reade
Director: Elle While
Was there ever more devotion, forgiveness and loyalty than that found between the Peaceful brothers? This loyalty is apparent in this new stage adaptation by Simon Reade of Michael Morpurgo’s famous novel, now with an ensemble cast. In the past, the stage play has been Reade’s previous version, a one-man play that tells a powerful story but in the process takes some liberties with the original book for the sake of creating a piece of drama. This professional premiere gives us something which is truer to Morpurgo’s original.
The Peaceful brothers – Charlie, Tommo, and their brain-damaged brother Big Joe – have had a tough but loving childhood in rural England. Life has been hard. The death of their father left the family facing financial ruin, and at the mercy of their cruel landlord, but they have each other, and they manage. Then Charlie and Tommo fall in love with the same girl, and war comes – and even though underage, Tommo signs up with his brother.
We don’t know all of this at once though. When we meet Tommo he is alone one night, wrapped in a blanket and determined to stay awake, to spend the night remembering everything that he and his brother have been through because dawn is the time for the firing squad. The play takes us through that night, and via a series of flashbacks, we see the joys and disappointments of their childhood and their life at home and in the trenches.
Even before the play starts we’re faced with the striking set design by Lucy Sierra, which serves to represent both rural England and the trenches of Flanders equally well. It has slopes and niches, tangles of branches or barbed wire, and like the mind of the shell-shocked Tommo, it’s cracked and broken. The set is brilliantly complemented by the lighting, designed by Matt Haskins which moves us from one location to another – the glow of home, the cold and wet of the trenches.
Daniel Boyd gives us a strong performance as Charlie, the ever-positive and supportive brother who would do anything to protect his younger sibling. Alongside him Dan Rainford is very strong in the role of Tommo – his childhood and first love, signing up to fight, the hope and expectation through to the time his mind starts to reject the horror he’s experiencing, all the time carrying a deep guilt that he’s felt since he was young. There’s good work here too from Emma Manton as their mother Hazel, ever practical and determined and Liyah Summers as both of Tommo’s loves – Molly the girl he met at school, and Anna, daughter of the Belgian café owner. Completing the cast and covering the remainder of the many roles we have good support from John Dougall, Robert Ewens and Tom Kanji.
This is another powerful piece of work by Simon Reade. What we see is sanitised somewhat, so we don’t get to experience the full horror of life in the trenches as intensely as other pieces about the period – and in some ways that makes the climax of the play more striking. This is the story of a country lad fighting a war he doesn’t understand for people he cannot respect.
You can pretty much guarantee good quality theatre at Nottingham Playhouse and this is no exception. Well worth catching either in Nottingham or on tour.
Runs until 26 February 2022 and on tour