Theatre Review: Private Peaceful - Theatre Royal, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭✭

Review by Sharman Prince

At its simplest theatre is storytelling, the purpose of which is to pass on knowledge, information and to ensure that things are not forgotten. And some things should never be forgotten, some stories deserve to be retold.

Michael Morpurgo's novels have ensured that history remains alive to the younger generations and his stories have been adapted into various forms of media further ensuring their survival and assimilation into the minds of future generations.

This stage adaptation of Morpurgo's 'Private Peaceful' is the stirring tale of one young soldier of the Great War who recounts his life story shortly before facing the firing squad. As he relives the joys and sorrows of his all-too brief existence we bear witness to the magic of theatre at its best - simple, uncluttered and engaging. No flashy special effects or monumental set pieces required here, instead the power of imagination is employed along with the skills of a single actor in the role of 'Private Tommo Peaceful'. 

Director/adapter Simon Reade ensures that we see this lone soldier as a real person and not merely a symbol of the 306 soldiers executed in the First World War. His direction is clean, direct, elegant, subtle and vital and he ensures the emotionally affecting mortality of 'Private Peaceful' is laid out before us as we jump from his present to his past with time referenced throughout with each act beginning with the ticking of a watch as the final hours of his life ebb away. 

The simple set design is enhanced by simple lighting whilst minimal sound effects aid the production effectively. But the play ultimately relies on the single performer onstage and here Paul Chequer proves himself an exceptional actor able to navigate between a wide range of emotions whilst switching deftly into other characters as required, his physical prowess matching his emotional resonance easily. His is a deeply moving, funny, tragic and engaging portrayal which brings an honesty and simplicity essential to our belief in his character(s) whilst Chequer's stage presence is sincere and confident. His gifts are such that his performance, especially from when we see 'Peaceful' on the battlefield, is truly a mesmerising, arresting, chilling and emotionally rending experience.

Whilst this production seems to be aimed primarily at school children, given its performance times, it still speaks, in volumes, to all ages and is worthy of the attention of any theatre-goer. As it is this is the final week of its tour and I urge one and all to make the effort to see this wonderful, effective piece of story-telling.

Lest we forget.

Private Peaceful is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow until 28th June. Performances at 2pm