It's safe to say that BoxLess Theatre's production of Private Peaceful has been a sensation. First appearing last August as part of The Barn Theatre's outdoor BarnFest festival, it then moved indoors to the Barn theatre in Cirencester and for a run at the Bristol Old Vic before it was due to transfer to the West End for a limited run at the Garrick Theatre - though those plans were ultimately scuppered by lockdown. A show that gets bigger and bigger like this production of Private Peaceful has must be worth the hype so I was keen to see what all the fuss was about when the filmed version of the current production returned online for an encore run. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
Private Peaceful is adapted from Michael Morpugo's novel, first published in 2003. Less well known than Morpugo's most famous title War Horse, it tells the story of Tommo Peaceful as he moves from childhood innocence to an intense awakening as he witnesses first-hand the horrors of war. Powerfully told through simple staging, this is a two hander with Emily Costello playing a gender-blind version of Tommo, and James Demaine who plays his brother Charlie among other characters throughout the piece.
The chemistry between the two leads is undeniable. It noticeably changes depending on which characters are being played, but when they are playing the two Peaceful brothers, magic is happening on that stage. With Tommo narrating the story of his life, the tone gradually changes throughout as his innocence and naivety ebbs away. Through some truly tragic events, the way Costello portrays Tommo's growth is a masterclass is acting, channelling every ounce of emotional that is available. Both actors give practically perfect performances, leaving their entire selves on that stage.
Private Peaceful is a well executed affair into the art of storytelling. There is no need for special effects, scene changes or even an ensemble. All it needs is two brilliant actors painting the picture with their words. With a great use of props on the stage, it is a testament to how sometimes the most powerful shows are the simplest.
Bringing you into the world of the Peaceful brothers and the devastation of the First World War, Private Peaceful takes us on a journey through brotherly love until it reaches its heartbreaking and emotional conclusion. With gorgeous filming, lighting and sound design, every element of this production is flawlessly produced, leaving the end result of a stunning piece of online theatre.
Private Peaceful is as good as it gets when it comes to virtual theatre. There is no need for bells and whistles when the talent on stage is this good. Watching this, it is clear to see why this production has taken on a life of its own. Let's hope it finally gets the opportunity to have a run in the West End as it will be very much deserved.
Private Peaceful is available to stream until May 2nd from http://barntheatre.org.uk/barn-at-home