Private Peaceful is a play about a young soldier looking back at the events of his short life as he awaits execution. The play has been adapted and directed by Simon Reade, from the book by Michael Morpurgo, renowned writer of ‘War Horse’. This is not a new story, it sticks to the brief of ‘young man goes to war: dies in tragic circumstances’. However, the script is elevated by the talents of actor Shane O’Regan who previously played Shaggy Callaghan in Conall Morrison’s Borstal Boy and more recently starred in Mark Renton in Reality:Check Productions critically acclaimed run of the stage adaptation of Trainspotting. O’Regan brings to life the reflections of a defeated young man, as he transitions from early childhood to his untimely end. Produced by Verdant and Pemberly Productions, this play is a classic story and O’Regan engulfs the stage to deliver his passionate performance.
In the first half, we listen to the adventures of Tommo and his brother Charlie as he speaks of their youth, together in rural England. We discover that their father has died, and the young boys must go to work in order to sustain the family home. We discover that both boys love the same girl; Molly. Molly is beautiful and kind, she befriends both of the boys, but it is Charlie who wins her heart, because Tommo is a bit of an annoying goon, to be honest. But he has a kind heart and loves them both deeply, so that’s really nice of him. He doesn’t even kick up a fuss when he has to give up his room for them, and is segregated to the bed with their older brother Big John, which is not ideal.
O’Regan slips into all of these roles with incredible ease, he moves from the mind of an impressionable young child, a warbling old English landlord with jowls into a toothless old woman with a crooked body and a venomous tongue. He proves himself as a talented shapeshifter, and a well accomplished character actor.
The second half meandered. Simon Reade, as both writer and director could have tightened the flow of the progression of war. But there were some moving scenes, and again O’Regan draws us into the trenches with him.
My only criticism, is that Tommo never really moved from a child to an adult. Although the play is brilliantly acted, we meet Tommo Peaceful as an 8 year old boy, and we see him stood in the firing line still an 8 year old boy. He never managed to shake himself away from the earnest perspective of a child, yet he uses florid language as an adult might, and this became irksome towards the end.
This play could be considered a ‘coming of age’ tale, particularly as the original was written by Morpurgo for young adults, but Tommo Peaceful is in a state of arrested development throughout. Despite having to face the viciousness of war, the cruelty of Sergeant Hanley, even after he evades death by gas cloud and is finally executed by firing squad he never really ‘comes of age’.
This play would be a great one for families, it is currently touring in theatres around Ireland. Next stop is the Civic Theatre in Tallaght on 22, 25, 26 and 27 May. €20 & €18 concession.