Private Peaceful – NODA Review

Wadhurst Dramatic Club / WYTKidz (Wadhurst Youth Theatre Kidz)

Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful

Wadhurst Commemoration Hall
Sunday 18th November 2018

Director: Amanda Dann

I’ve had nearly 18 years of yesterdays and tomorrows, and tonight I must remember as many of them as I can. Tonight, more than any other night in my life, I want to feel alive’. Words of young Private Peaceful waiting for his imminent demise supposedly for desertion. A play at a very poignant time commemorating 100 years since the ending of the 1914-18 war. The first straight play taken on by the performers who portrayed their many characters, with understanding and feeling thus stretching them beyond their usual musicals. Amanda Dann even taking those involved to visit the Imperial War Museum, helping more understanding of the time and its impact on ordinary people. Memories take him back to growing up in Devon, his early school days, his Father’s forestry accident, his time with his beloved love of his life Molly, his family and the lead up to his frontline experiences.

An evocative front cover to the double A5 stiff carded programme from Nick Dann’s design, and such a pity the NODA logo was excluded when it was on the flyer!

Side of stage was placed a single vintage iron hospital bed – an actual WW1 hospital bed belonging to local artist Christine Dickenson and on display the outline shape of a young soldier imprinted using mud collected from the battlefields of Flanders. Dark hinged flat behind where Tommo’s narration took place and the words of the rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ were sung. The other corner was a matching hinged flat depicting the village from Nance and Colin Hand, set a small square kitchen table check tablecloth with chairs. Most scenes were worked on half or quarter curtains and opened to a full stage for the over the top battle scene with silhouetted backdrop.  Small items as benches were added and not only were the WytKidz performing they were responsible for much of the backstage jobs too.

The hall rang with recordings of familiar WW1 songs – one I recognised from my Grandfather’s rendering – ‘Sister Susie Sewing Shirts for Soldiers ……’ John Bush had prepared the lighting and sound and with the help of grandson James, I understand had about 70 changes during the performance, including realistic gun fire, blackouts, effects all running smoothly and John and Catherine Whitehead being responsible for all the necessary props completing the picture. Costumes were suitably adapted by Gill Gordon Williams with hire from Mad Hatters at Bodiam. So many characters to cater for with actors doubling, trebling and even more – excellent work. Finishing touches of hair, make up including injuries well applied too by the creative team – Simple additions worked well with moustaches, uniforms for both girls and boys – a dog’s collar, a red beret, braces, sometimes aged characters, sometimes quite young.

Key characters were played by Joseph Trotter as Tommo Peaceful – such a heart-rending portrayal requiring much concentration and emotion- most commendable.  Supported throughout by his older brother Charlie, was performed with ever growing maturity and humour by Alex Bush, with the delightful Lauren Perry portraying confidently Tommo’s lifelong friend, wife and mother – with twelve other hardworking members covering the 38 other parts so beautifully.  The great understanding and dedication from Director Amanda Dann resulted in a memorable piece.  Costumed Dot Smytherman must be thanked for her attention to the book sitting in her small prompt corner not forgetting the F of H and Bar headed by Jan Lynam and her trusty helpers.

Falling poppies and the cast crescendoing in line singing ‘Oranges and Lemons’ produced a most moving finale.

Thankyou members of WytKidz for inviting me and a shortened review will be posted on the NODA website shortly.

Anne Lawson
Regional Representative
District 3