Writer: Michael Morpurgo
Adaptor and director: Simon Reade
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
The 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War has led to a feeding frenzy of creative projects. Here, West Yorkshire Playhouse offers a short work based on Michael “War Horse” Morpurgo’s 2003 book for children, which was Blue Peter Book of the Year. Simon Reade is responsible for the adaptation and also directs this Scamp Theatre and Fiery Angel production.
Private Tommo Peaceful is about to be shot at dawn for cowardice. In his last night, he recalls his life, experiencing again his schooldays, his first love and family loss, awaiting the inevitable.
The set is minimalistic – a bed and a pile of clothing in front of a large image on the back wall, of a low horizon of earth against a huge grey sky. Elanor Higgins’ lighting scheme works very effectively, whereby the sky is lit according to the time of day or to set a mood. Peaceful wears his army uniform throughout, sometimes taking off or putting on different parts of it. Jason Barnes’ sound design incorporates folk music and nursery rhymes, as well as shell explosions and gunfire. The direction is very assured, with the action using the full space of the stage and always maintaining the interest of the audience.
The performance is a tour-de-force from the single actor, Andy Daniel, who is animated and earnest throughout. In addition to Private Peaceful, he conjures up several family members, friends, and others, in an engaging naturalistic style. His energetic performance (sometimes twice a day!) while maintaining a West Country accent and word-perfect delivery is something to behold. Further, he manages to evoke convincing images from Peaceful’s boyhood to grim pictures of his experiences on the front line.
The only problem with the play is that it’s not really a play. As moving and well-performed and worth seeing as this piece is, it’s clearly an adaptation of a novel written for children. It brings with it all the sentimentality and over-simplification of a children’s book. It lacks the rigorous testing of ideas and depiction of alternative viewpoints of a well-made play.
Runs until: 28 October