Morpurgo;s Private Peaceful is very disappointing. Perhaps we expected too much after the stunning writing of War Horse, , its astonishing stage production and the film. Or perhaps World War 1, as a vehicle for drama has passed its peak and needs to take a rest.
Of course one reason may be that without the need of any spoiler alert, we all know the end of the story. it is a universal and self evident truth that a world war one rank and file soldier, executed by firing squad is invariably innocent, has been treated unfairly and unjustly and his killing is a tragedy.
But this was a poor production. As Private peaceful recalls for us, on stage, his life we see him terrified and traumatised by the horrors of trench warfare. He cowers under the barrage of artillery. We all know, particularly from War Horse, what can be achieved on a stage, but here, the soundtrack of the gunfire and artillery is almost in the background and has none of the volume and horror that would induce the kind of terror and trauma being enacted upon the stage. It is as if they had got a bog standard recording of gunfire/artillery from Bargain sound effects for your drama group.com One would reasonably, I think, expect to flinch from the sounds/ horror of a full scale artillery bombardment, but in truth, you could hear a crisp packet rustle. And the shots that bring Private Peaceful’s life to an end, surely they could have been loud enough to shock us in our seats, just a little bit?
The story was not as powerful as I had imagined it would be. Almost every cliche of world war one was thrown in. Below age signing on; close friend signing on with you; friend getting killed; nasty shouting sgt.: weak officer; girlfriend back home; letters about babies.
I have not read the book and cannot say whether this was an accurate reflection of Morpurgo’s work. If it is then Private Peaceful is not his finest hour..