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Peaceful

Private Peaceful is another adaptation of a novel by the brilliant children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo (of War Horse fame).

Similarly to how War Horse relates sophisticated ideas about war to young audiences by focusing on the relationship between soldiers and animals, Private Peaceful focuses on the childhood recollections of a sixteen-year old boy who lied about his age to be able to fight alongside his brother in the First World War.

Finn Hanlon gave an amazing performance as Tommo Peaceful, controlling the pace of the piece while not just developing Tommo’s character but also bringing a great deal of life to the characters within his recollections.  This is no small achievement – the play is a 60 minute reflective monologue performed on a stage empty of all but a dilapidated folding bed.

The strength of the play is in how  beautifully it captures how Tommo’s favourite memories are poisoned by his time on the front; his first glimpse of a aeroplane in a country field, running along the mud tracks of a stream with his best friend, and getting piggyback rides from his big brother.

A fantastic piece of children’s theatre.

Private Peaceful
Michael Morpurgo an Simon Reade

Udderbelly, Bristo Square
Until the 31st of August

Morgurgo is also going to be speaking at three events the Edinburgh Book Festival: some tickets still available.

War Horse

I was walking to the Tate Modern on Thursday morning when I passed the National Theatre. I had seen reviews of War Horse and wanted to see it, but all the performances on while I was in London had sold out. I thought I might as well see if they had any day tickets left but it was about an hour after the box office opened, and noticing the ‘queue for tickets starts here’ sign, I didn’t fancy my luck.

Last ticket, front row middle, ten pounds. Awesome.

War Horse tells the story of the first World War through the eyes of animals that have no possible interest in political events. The horses are played by brilliant, life-size puppets, operated by up to three puppeteers per horse. They are constructed in a way so that the human characters can ride the puppets. I’ve never seen anything like it.

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The review I saw in The Guardian said that once the performance begins you forget that you’re watching puppets rather than actual horses (and geese, swallows and ravens). But I don’t entirely agree.

I love good puppetry. But I don’t think in watching puppetry you ever forget that the puppets aren’t real. I think that the reason puppets are so enthralling is because they instantly take you to a sort of mythical level of storytelling. You understand and believe the story, but you never loose the sense of awe invoked by watching objects become characters.

That sort of idea is reflected in the puppet design for this production. The makers of the horses were not primarily concerned with realism – the frames of the puppets are a central feature of their design and they have no hide. Later in the play an injured and emaciated horse limps on three hooves and a limb that looks more like a piano leg. The puppeteers are dressed in early twentieth century style farm-hand clothes (rather than stage blacks) and act out the emotion of the horse they are playing on their faces – they are not intended to be invisible.

These puppets do not need to look like real horses to be convincing; the way that they move is entirely persuasive.

War Horse is based on a children’s book, but I think the play is certainly too violent for very young children, particularly when so much of the violence involves animals being abused by people. A woman in the row behind me actually screamed when one of the horses died.

The appeal of the play goes beyond the simple affinity people tend to have with animals.
The helpless horses are a good analogy for the people who put their lives at risk during the war with little motivation but patriotism and trust in authority. I wouldn’t call the play emotionally manipulative, but it was certainly deliberately affecting. War Horse was first performed at the National Theatre in October last year and is already back on stage. I think it is a brilliant example of how effective the broader theatre arts can be.

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War Horse
National Theatre in association with Handspring Puppet Company
Based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo

Olivier Theatre
11/09/08

National Theatre

June 2017
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