REVIEW: WWI Through the Eyes of a Young Soldier in “Private Peaceful”
One hundred years ago this coming November 18th, World War I formally came to a close with the Armistice of Compiègne.
An estimated 15 to 19 million people perished in the conflict, but it was the untold story of 300 British soldiers (pardoned in 2006) who were quickly tried and executed by firing squad for cowardice or desertion on the front lines that caught the attention of author Michael Morpurgo (“War Horse”).
In “Private Peaceful”, a one-man stage play adapted from Mr. Morpurgo’s 2003 young adult novel and 2012 film—now playing in a Pemberley Productions staging at the TBG Mainstage—Irish actor Shane O’Regan plays 16-year-old infantryman Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful—and some 23 other characters—as he recounts key stories of his short life over the course of one long, dream-like night in a prison cell near the trenches of the Western front.
Mr. O’Regan is a thoroughly engaging and energetic performer who moves about and fills a nearly empty blackbox (a cot is the only furniture) with the joyful ferociousness of a child at play—a purposeful technique of director and adapter Simon Reade’s crisp production.
Told at a brisk pace as a series of flashbacks, Mr. O’Regan’s mastery of subtle dialects and accents captures the world-expanding experience of Tommo’s adolescent voyage from rural Devon in southwestern England, to the drill of a military camp, and the killing fields of Flanders—with his older brother, Charlie, his hero and best friend, by his side.
Young people, whether civilian or military, suffer greatest in times of war; their lives, tragically cut short, deserve to be remembered and revered. At once humorous and sad, this dispatch from the horrific frontlines of a horrific, and increasingly forgotten, war offers a poignant portrait of gentle boyhood ripped apart by the Shell-Shock of trench warfare.
Single actor shows rise and fall on the collective strength of performer, writer, and director. Here, all three are brilliant, and combine to create an intense, beautiful, and memorable evening of devastating storytelling—alongside smart and precise scenic and lighting design by Anshuman Bhatia and sound design by Jason Barnes that are richly evocative and transforming.
Following this engagement, “Private Peaceful” will play a brief U.S. tour with stops in Easton (Pennsylvania), Philadelphia, Chicago, and Austin; I suggest you catch it in New York while you can.
This simple but arresting play, told from the perspective of a young person—like 2017’s Kneehigh production of “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips”—is a haunting reminder of the savage cost of war and the terrific sacrifices made for democracy by those who came before us—the benefits of which are increasingly threatened here at home and around the world.
Bottom Line: In “Private Peaceful”, Irish actor Shane O’Regan makes a smashing New York debut playing 24 characters in this one-man World War I story. A dispatch from the trenches of war told from the perspective of a young solider, this simple but arresting play is a haunting reminder of the savage cost of war and the terrific sacrifices made for democracy by those who came before us. I recommend you catch this crisp and brilliant production before it goes on tour.
312 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018
Running Time: 80 minutes
Opening Night: August 28, 2018
Final Performance: October 7, 2018