Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

One night on the Western Front

three tommos

Three ages of Tommo: Dillan McKeever as the younger, Alfie McMillan as the elder and Andrew Brown as Tommo the narrator

Private Peaceful


Crescent Theatre


THE Great War, as it was known at the time, exploded in summer 2014. It was to be over by Christmas: four years and around 18 million deaths later, hostilities finally ceased, it was over before Christmas, in 1918.

It was an event which changed the world forever and Stage2 are marking is centenary with their own adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book of 2003.

On both sides of the conflict young men became cannon fodder and  the book contrasts the peaceful, tranquillity of  life in a small Devon village in the Edwardian era with the carnage and injustice on the Western Front.

Young men delighting in humbugs and laughing and jumping in the river in that endless summer of youth finding themselves drowning in mud, gassed and shot on the battlefields of France.

The book was adapted by Simon Reade intocharlies a powerful one man play in 2004 followed by a second version two years later, a schools edition for a larger cast – a National Youth Theatre production had 15 actors.

Stage2 have taken both versions to create their own, and, being Stage2, we have a cast of 65, which creates its own problems.

The one-man version makes great demands upon the actor but it has poignancy, and builds an emotive power, a bond between actor and audience that is much harder to create with an ensemble piece.

That being said Stage2 have made a good fist of bringing the book to life and have the knack of packing the stage with people, even in the limited confines of the Crescent Studio, without making the setting look cluttered.

Two Charlies: Charlie Stewart the younger and Mark James the elder

This is achieved in part by no one taking on the role of furniture. Crowds, as in real life, are broken down into groups, and each group is animated, performing its own little, silent or softly mumbled scene to add to the whole. Everyone has their role to create a crowd scene rather than bung everyone on and hope for the best.

Carrying the whole thing is Andrew Brown as Tommo, the narrator, a teenager recalling his life and living every precious second of his brother’s last night on earth.

Brown’s is a measured performance in a static part where he has little to generate interest apart from himself and he does that well with a voice full of expression and holding a steady, lilting West Country accent.

Director Alex Pugh has cleverly used three actors for Tommo with Dillan McKeever as the younger and Alfie McMillan as the elder, and both carried their parts well as did the two Charlies, Charlie Stewart playing the younger and Mark James the elder.

The two pairing of siblings worked well and the transitions from childhood to what was, even at their young age, manhood, was cleverly done with just an exchange of hats.

The same applied to Molly, the object of both boys’ affections, with Ellie Waide as the young Molly and Teigan Jones as the adult who runs foul of the attitudes of the time to sex, and even worse, pregnancy, out of wedlock.

Her harridan of a mother, played by Chloe Jennings, makes the family’s thoughts on the matter plain when the unwed teenage mother to be is thrown out of the house.

Harridans seem to be in demand with Grandma Wolf, really an aunt, ending up married to the Colonel in the big house, the employer of most of the village. Em Hawtin’s Wolf is as friendly as a tank of scorpions while Dan Nash’s Colonel could be straight from a Victorian melodrama. It is not easy for boys to play men, particularly old men, until voices break completely and manly tones appear.

Much easier for women with the likes of Wolf and Molly’s mother and the cruel strict teacher Mrs Munnings, played abrasively by Sophia Adilypour as well as struggling mum of Tommo, Charlie and Big Joe, Aldora Lekgegaj.

Big Joe, is the eldest brother, a brain damaged victim of childhood meningitis. It is not an easy role to play sympathetically but Jack Deakin managed it well.

When it comes to abrasive though, the prize must go to Sgt Hanley, played with real viciousness by George Bandy. He is the sole reason Charlie is shot at dawn for comollyswardice. There are no reliable figures or estimates for the number of officers and NCOs shot by accident, and, let us be honest, other, less accidental reasons,  by their own side, but Hanley would have been a fair candidate for the other reasons column.

A Stage2 addition was 12 nurses, all named, and all who were killed in the War to End All Wars, who form a sort of Greek Chorus, looking like the staff of a ward of some hospital of the damned.

They quote from war poems from the likes of Owen, Brooke and Sassoon, which adds drama to the words but, that is balanced by the fact a chorus arrangement does loose some of the rhythm and intimate emotion of the poems.

Generations of Mollys: Ellie Waide as the young Molly and Teigan Jones as the adult

Worth a mention is the funeral scene of Tommo’s father, played by George Hannigan, who was a forester, who died when a tree fell on him. Young Goldie Mutta, gives a beautifully clear, and pitch perfect a capella singing of Amazing Grace. She has an unusual, interesting voice that is worth nurturing.

As usual with Stage2 the staging was well thought out with effectively seven exits in a simple set which gave us Tommo’s billet, a French pub, Devon market, tied cottage, forest, battle field, training camp and church all with a just a variation in personnel and with a change in the excellent lighting and sound from lighting designer Chris Cuthbert and sound operator Ethan Tarr. We even had the poison gas, the fog of war and the mists rising around Ypres.

Particularly effective was the execution of Charlie, which relied entirely upon sound and light to make it work. It made it a stark, emotive scene, started and ended in seconds, after a couple of emotive speeches.

It highlighted the cases of 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot at dawn for military offences such as cowardice or desertion in the Great War and were covered with a blanket pardon in 206 as after 90 years with all witness dead and papers missing few cases could be assessed individually. Forty other executions for crimes including murder and rape were excluded.

Many of those pardoned were thought to have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or shell-shock, as it was known then and the blanket pardon was to recognize there had certainly been injustices in some cases – with fictional Charlie’s death clearly falling into that category.

Four of those executed were 17 and not even legally old enough to have been fighting in their regiments.

The names of many of those executed are included in the programme.

The production builds to a moving climax with the Last Post followed by a minute’s silence and then reveille. A fitting tribute and a fitting production from one of the best youth theatres around. To 10-01-15

Roger Clarke


Anyone interested in joining Stage2 Youth Theatre can contact the company on 07961 018841 or email The company meets on Saturday mornings in term time at Millennium Point in the City Centre and the age range is seven to 21.

There is an open access policy and there are no auditions to join. There is an intro session to find out about Stage1, a group within Stage2, for younger members, aged seven to 10,  on Saturday 31 January 2015 from 1.30 to 5pm, with parents expected to stay for the opening hour.

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate