This evocative First World War monologue has been adapted by Simon Reade from a book by Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo, written as part of a campaign to persuade the government to grant pardons to the 300 shell-shocked British tommies executed between 1914 and 1918 for cowardice or desertion. It is very much more than just a piece of propaganda, though, even if once or twice it does wear a class chip on its shoulder.
Morpurgo’s framework is deceptively simple, as 18-year-old Private Peaceful spends his last night before facing a firing squad remembering his Devon childhood, the first stirrings of love, the recruiting officer persuading under-age boys to take the King’s shilling. From there we are in the trenches and the writing takes on a clarity, a lack of sentimentality and a harsh reality that lifts the work close to the same league as Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong.
It is in the trenches that Paul Chequer meets the challenge of delivering such a multi-faceted solo tour-de-force. His physical terror, most especially at the onset of a gas attack, is tangible, while his eventual refusal to abandon his wounded brother and go over the top in a totally futile raid is nobody’s idea of cowardice. This is powerful and moving theatre, aided here by a lighting plot by Tim Streader and sound by Jason Barnes far superior to that for your average one-man show.