We took 60 children from Year 6 to see Private Peaceful at the Royal Theatre in Northampton last night.
This was proper theatre. I qualify ‘Proper Theatre’ by the following, simple rule: no pork pies are thrown from the stage or at the stage. (When I was 11 I went to see a pantomime and at the end the cast lobbed pork pies gently into the audience (?) and we thought it would be a good idea to throw them back. They made a really satisfying ‘whummmmp’ sound as they hit the curtain). This was theatre without pork pie.
It was an adaption of Michael Morpugo’s Private Peaceful. My daughter (14, who took advantage of a spare tickete) said at the end that you can’t mess with Morpurgo, but is is an adaption of the story and there is a key difference at the end. No spoilers.
There was a sparsity of set which puzzled the children. No backdrop and no set. You’re faced with a stark contrast between spotlight and darkness. A pile of uniform and iron bed dress the stage. The second challenge is that it is a one man show and the story is told in a series of flashbacks. The actor, Andy Daniel is the story teller and tells the story from the perspective of Thomas ‘Thommo’ Peaceful. (I might be wrong but I think I’ve seen him in it before at the Core in Corby about 3 years ago). I think children had preconceived ideas that the play would be full of actors and would be a direct acting of the story.
I knew what to expect in terms of the delivery but for staff and children that hadn’t seen it before, there is an initial settling in before you get used to it being a solo piece. Andy is wonderful. His use of voice and body bring a range of characters alive. It tests the powers of your imagination to visualise the story. Today I was still seeing the images of a biplane landing in a meadow and a pilot throwing out a bag of mint humbugs from his cockpit. I was still seeing the Peaceful brothers and Molly dipping their feet in fast flowing, clear streams on a warm sunny afternoon in the countryside. I was still seeing the horrors of the trenches…
The audience was a mixed demographic. We took children to see it for lots of reasons including wanting them to enjoy real theatre; see a key stage 2 text being performed, as well as learning about the history of the first world war. There were families who had taken children and there were also members of the older generation (bit older than me) who were probably thinking about grandparents who may have fallen in France or Belgium – you can’t ignore the fact that the play is touring at a time of remembrance for the centenary of the ending of World War I.
It’s really powerful. It gives you little in terms of real stuff but twists and teases your imagination into seeing everything – both the joy and innocence of childhood in a simpler time as well as the horror and injustice of war.
Our children were challenged by it which was great. They weren’t sure they were allowed to enjoy a play with an ending like that. They thought Andy was great because he brought the characters alive through his craft of telling the story. He was/is remarkably brilliant.
At the end, even though it’s fictional, it made me think of the real men and boys that joined up for the fight. It made me think about how real they were and how real their lives were. That they played and explored and swam and fought as children like our children do. It made me realise that this time of year when people are wearing poppies for remembrance they’re wearing them for real people not nations or pride or patriotism. We should wear them to remember how terrible war is and how terrible that war was. They should be worn to help us remember but also as sign that we need to learn not to make the same mistakes again especially for the sake of the children in that theatre – our children.