“Private Peaceful” by Michael Morpurgo
The Festival Players
Sir Robert Martin Theatre, Loughborough University.

From the same writer as “War Horse”. Private Peaceful, like "War Horse", began life as a book for older children by Michael Morpurgo, and the concept is similarly stark and devastating.

The play covers the years 1903 to 1916. Tommo and Charlie have an older brother with learning difficulties and the play starts with Tommo, dressed in army uniform, starting to count down the hours until 6am when he tells us that there is an appointment with the firing squad.

The story then takes us back in time telling the story of the Peaceful family, their school days and the boys' love for Molly, who is made pregnant by Charlie, just before he signs up for the war movement. Charlie has been Tommo's hero so wanting to emulate his brother, Tommo also signs up, even though he is too young - mirroring the "War Horse" story.

From there on we are shown the horrors of war, including the bullying Seargent Hanley. Hanley had it in for Charlie and had his card marked when during a manoeuvre, Charlie was injured in his foot which sparked suspicion from Hanley 

When Charlie returns to the war front Hanley gives an order which Charlie does not agree with, as Tommo was injured and Charlie told Hanley that he had to look after his brother..

Interspersed with the flashback sequences, Tommo is counting down the hours through the night, with the 6am firing squad looming. At 5.59am we discover the twist.

Fred Wardale (Tommo ) and Tom Grainger (Charlie) are excellent in their roles and you really feel that brothely love between the two characters, as well as the emotion, especially when Tommo confesses that he felt responsible for their Father's death, which Chatlie says that he had known about all along.

Grace Lavender (Molly), Gilly Clarke (Mother), Jez Malpas (who doubles as father as well as the bullying Hanley), Billy Harris (Big Joe), play the other main characters.

This is a big cast of all ages with several well known local actors taking a back seat to play minor parts, which also meant that the cast is well fleshed out, giving us a sense of the busy village atmosphere.

Directed by Nick Grainger, he kept the emotion bubbling along right up to the end and, unless you have a heart of stone, you will be affected by the incredibly poignant ending.

Setting us up at the start were the Hathern band, playing music from the era of the First World War.

The screens at the back where the video creating the settings and atmosphere moved us from setting to setting and allowed us to see the countdown to the firing squad, which in turn helped to build up the tension in this play.

There were a few technical sound issues which slightly marred the flow of the story but I am sure that these will be ironed out for the rest of the run.

That apart this is a wonderful piece of theatre which was really well acted by all. The younger actors showing the same amount of professionalism and ear for accents as the elder actors. The other main thing that this play has in common with Morpurgo's "War Horse" is the intense emotional impact that the story has on the viewer. Be prepared to get choked up.

“Private Peaceful” is at the Sir Robert Martin Theatre, Loughborough until Saturday 14 April 2018.

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