war shot

Brothers in arms amid mud, wire and death. Pictures: Manual Harlan

Private Peaceful

Malvern Theatres


Michael Morpurgo’s moving story of two brothers who enlist in the Army to fight in World War One is brilliantly translated into theatrical form at Malvern Theatres this week.

Country boys who grew up in a farming community, they are transported into the violence and brutality of modern trench warfare and the impact on them is horrific.

Tommy, the younger of the Peaceful brothers, was strictly too young to enlist, but he lied to get included in the draft with his brother. The simple life of their village upbringing - the schooling, the natural environment - is in stark contrast to the devastated landscape of the muddy war zone and the inhumanity with which they are treated, even by their own military leaders.

As with the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, Morpurgo confronts us with the intolerable and unjust treatment of the soldiers and the mindless futility of the war that was being fought.

The play presents these scenes in retrospect as Tommo has a night of ‘nightmares’, recollecting the events of his life up to this tragic climax

From the very outset of the play, the sound and fury of war assaults the ears and eyes of the audience with deafening blasts and lighting effects that shock and disturb. The powerful sound effects are frequently juxtaposed with the unaccompanied sound of the human voice singing dirges and familiar songs of that war.

The production is fast-moving and very intense, performed by an ensemble cast who switch with great rapidity and effectiveness between various roles, apart from Daniel Rainford who plays the part of Tommo.

He is very effective in his portrayal of Tommo both as a child who is devastated by the premature death of his father in an accident in the forest, and his subsequent young teenager who is shell-shocked and afflicted with sleepless nights and nightmarish recollections.


Daniel Rainford  holding on to every second of the night as Tommo

Likewise Daniel Boyd is almost exclusively seen in the role of the older Private Peaceful, Charlie. Charlie adopts a protective role towards his younger brother and ultimately pays a heavy price for his loyalty.

The rest of the cast are brilliant and convincing in their hasty swapping between a variety of roles. John Dougall is excellent as the cold and unfeeling landlord and later Sergeant Major among other roles. Liyah Summers was a wonderful Molly with her doleful singing. Emma Manton was brilliant as the boys’ mother, Tom Kanji and Robert Ewens complete a very strong team. Speedy changes of headgear and costume avoid any confusion of roles. It works superbly.

The work of the designer is outstanding. The impressionistic set adapts for the variety of settings. The overhanging barbed wire establishes an atmosphere throughout. The combination of the set, the lighting and the sound effects is very powerful and dramatic.

This production brings home the visceral brutality of war at a time when conflict in the Ukraine makes it so relevant. The injustices perpetrated upon the working classes by the privileged leaders shock us again. This production is not a comfortable and escapist experience; it is a raw challenge brilliantly delivered. Not to be missed.

Tim Crow


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