THE ATMOSPHERE was almost haunting throughout this poignant and powerful performance of Private Peaceful at Droitwich’s Norbury Theatre.
The young cast did a sterling job staging this production which was thought-provoking theatre at its finest.
In the first act – primarily used by the playwright for scene-setting – we meet the characters during pre-First World War Britain.
We follow the Peaceful brothers and their school friends, growing up in their idyllic rural town lives and the seemingly unbreakable bond between siblings Charlie and Tommo and Molly.
The trio, like the Three Musketeers, have a ‘one for all and all for one’ approach.
With war breaking out, the Second Act is a lot more dark and dramatic – showcasing the realities of war – people who have never met fighting each other, families torn apart for the greater good of the country and the moral dilemmas conflicts bring with them.
As with army regiments, this cast worked as a team, all playing their part.
Ollie Ledington, Finley Checketts and Eleanor Burt were all great as Young Tommo, Young Charlie and Young Molly, Vicky Maloney was endearing as Mrs Peaceful and Jack Sheward was taken to the audience’s hearts as ‘Big Joe’. Glynis Smith was suitably feisty as Grandma Wolf and James Cowlishaw made the role as the sleazy Colonel his own.
There were not many smiles in this production but Tony Fisher as the stereotypical sergeant major provided one in the first half as he tried to ‘sell the King’s shilling’, as did Sean Williams as the navigationally-challenged pilot.
Imogen Chalk as ‘Old’ Molly and Alex Ingram as ‘Old’ Charlie were both fantastic in their roles – providing views many of us would have wanted to express in the situations they faced.
The stand-out performance of the evening went to Billy Jordan as Tommo – the character central to it all, he played a lead role, narrator, storyteller and more, taking the audience on the journey we were all there to embark on.
The main trio created many touching moments – both in the interaction in their ‘pre-war’ days and during the Peaceful brothers’ readings of their letters from home.
With their fine on-stage chemistry, they clearly depicted the love for each other they all felt.
The set, lighting and sound effects all simple but effective – seamlessly switching between the Peacefuls’ family home, a classroom and the trenches.
This is a unique piece of theatre that is well worth a watch – the usual orchestra we have seen at the Norbury, so flamboyant and often sprightly, replaced with Droitwich Folk Club’s acoustic guitars and other string instruments. Fitting as so many anti-war protest songs have been written for them over the years.
The musicians were excellent, providing the perfect soundtrack for what was playing out on the stage. Special mention to 17-year-old Lydia Beech whose, often solo, voice and accompanying instruments punctuated the action and scene changes.
Private Peaceful examines an aspect of war not often talked about but one that needed highlighting.
And, with the country marking Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday with parades and services this weekend, there could not be a better time to stage this breath-taking and, arguably provocative, piece.
Usually prior to the final curtain, there is cheering, clapping, whooping and more – not here. Every member of the audience gave well-earned, but also respectful, applause.
And the same silence that descended on the auditorium from the start to the finish of this play was maintained as the crowds filed out into the autumn night – few words were spoken as each and every one took in and reflected on what they had just watched.
The remaining performances take place at 7.30pm on Friday and Saturday, November 10 and 11, with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday as well.
Visit norburytheatre.co.uk or call 01905 770154 for tickets and more information.