FringeReview UK 2018
Solo actor Andy Daniel’s preforms Simon Reade’s adaptation and direction of Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful, for Scamp Theatre. John Hedge supplies all lighting and technical support. Limited run till October 6th, with extra matinee performances.
Solo actor Andy Daniel’s in tiny eight-point font below Simon Reade – adaptor and director of Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful for Scamp Theatre. Given all the five-star reviews at the top, and on the strength of this performance, he should be above the title.
John Hedge supplies all lighting and technical support, suffusing an otherwise bare black stage with washes and tenebrous shadows, where a bare-framed bed flips to a trench parapet Daniel crouches behind, shot at by impressive crumps, whines and ricochets. Daniel occasionally dons full uniform and pack, sometimes just his helmet. Towards morning when he dresses he winds on his puttees and dons his tunic. He’s never still.
In this seventy minute epic Daniel exquisitely balances anger with sprawling innocence, whilst letting a run of voices inhabit him. Despite its grim message this is a family and school show – but don’t let its school syllabus status veil its uncompromising first-rate qualities for all theatre-goers.
Morpurgo’s delicately furious diatribe against military inhumanity against its own soldiers is at least as memorable as the film King and Country starring Tom Courtney in 1964. It’s more pervasive though as the under-age sixteen-year-old who joined up lying about his age, still a boy, is about to be shot. They shoot children don’t they?
So on June 26th 1916 just before the big push that’s to be the debacle of the Somme, Tommo Peaceful’s to be made an example of. He’s determined not to sleep in his last eight or so hours of life, from ten to six when on the stroke of the clock he’s to face a firing squad as ‘a worthless man’ according to the brigadier. Peaceful too has a clock, a watch handed from a Captain Wilkins to Peaceful’s brother Charlie for saving him, and now the younger brother’s last consolation.
Because Tommo’s followed Charlie in everything from childhood games to joining up. And Tommo now relives every moment crammed forever into those eight hours even the watch can’t halt. And of course he occasionally falls into an exhausted sleep. Which with Daniel has to last just a beat.
Daniel deploys a gallimaufry of voices, his own piping childish treble, his father crushed by a tree that Tommo blames himself for; and lord of the manor, the colonel’s orotund platitudes. But more particularly Tommo’s elder brother Charlie, Molly the older girl he loves and who inevitably marries Charlie, tormenting bullies like Parsons or the cane-first schoolmaster, and grimmer more stentorian voice.
This is the great leveller Sergeant Horrible Handley who pursues the Peaceful brothers like the quintessence of envy, malice, spite and the life-denying forces of oppression who cause wars.
For the Peacefuls had known perfection, a soft day in fields when the brothers and Molly experienced such things that Molly thinks they should all die today for: for nothing so idyllic will come this way again. Just then to crown it an aviator lands – this is 1910 and just possible – asking the way. They show him, he hands them a bag of gobstoppers and flies off in his yellow machine. It’s a portent too. Later Peaceful observes dogfights when the wrong plane goes down.
There’s a tenderness in Tommo’s being used as go-between when families object, the protagonists knowing full-well that Tommo too is affected.
Tommo has the right instinct: avoid the recruiting drives and horrible old women spitting ‘coward’ at him. But inevitably he follows glumly dutiful Charlie who’s born October 5th 1895, old enough, and masquerades as his twin. Run-ins with Handley follow, punishments, first service, the raiding party told with thrilling dark and flash, earning that watch.
Daniel’s polyphony of military voices, his drunken sprees at the estaminet and a delicate friendship there with Anna, a French girl his own age, are oases in a sponsored madness. most mad of course is the advent of gas, which Tommo’s brushed with and the chain of events that leads Tommo here.
Hedge’s indefatigable cues of light and sonics is deeply impressive. It’s as crisp as Daniel’s protean story-telling, never still, flitting between hieratic or gentle worlds, and bewildered imaginings reft between both.
Morpurgo’s Peaceful isn’t simply a man monstrously wronged. He’s someone determined – in a private space about to be extinguished – to recall all that makes him human, all that’s worth living and certainly not worth dying for. All that distinguishes him from the dogs of war.
This is as good as a one-person show of this kind gets. Daniel should be up there above his own rows of five-star ratings.