A fit­ting trib­ute to sol­diers’ gal­lantry and brav­ery in war

As we pre­pare to com­mem­o­rate Armistice Day on Sun­day which this year marks 100 years since the end of the First World War, The Mis­sion The­atre is stag­ing Michael Mor­purgo’s Pri­vate Peace­ful

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Pri­vate Tommo Peace­ful, a young First World War sol­dier, has been ac­cused of de­ser­tion. Im­pris­oned in a barn in Ypres in 1916, Tommo has time to re­flect on his short, but joy­ful life. A child­hood in ru­ral Devon, school days, fam­ily life, Molly - his first and only love - and the bat­tles and in­jus­tices of war. Next Stage’s Kristofer Rose plays Tommo in a one-man show that has au­di­ences laugh­ing one mo­ment and cry­ing the next. Pri­vate Tommo Peace­ful is one of many who lied about their age at the start of First World War and, be­liev­ing to­tally in the glory of fight­ing for king and coun­try, will­ingly en­listed in the first wave of na­tional pa­tri­o­tism in 1914. The twist in Tommo’s story is that when the play opens he has been im­pris­oned in a barn in France for cowardice and is await­ing his fate. Michael Mor­purgo was in­spired to write Pri­vate Peace­ful hav­ing seen a First World War re­port no­ti­fy­ing par­ents that their young un­der­age sol­dier son had been shot for de­ser­tion. Many suf­fered the same fate, but in 2006 over 300 were granted a post­hu­mous par­don as it is now recog­nised that many were suf­fer­ing from post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der and de­served treat­ment rather than death by fir­ing squad. In the Na­tional Me­mo­rial Ar­bore­tum in Stafford­shire the Shot at Dawn mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rates the 309 Bri­tish and Com­mon­wealth sol­diers ex­e­cuted for de­ser­tion and other cap­i­tal of­fences dur­ing the First World War. Tommo’s life in ru­ral Devon in the early 1900s was a mil­lion miles away from the hor­rors of the trenches in France. A tour de force for any ac­tor, Kris en­gen­ders life and en­ergy, not only into his de­pic­tion of Tommo, but also into the mul­ti­tude of other char­ac­ters that Tommo re­calls from his short, but event­ful life. Big brother Char­lie is Tommo’s hero, whilst hand­i­capped brother Joe, needs pro­tec­tion and love. Bul­lies in the shape of teach­ers and army per­son­nel can make life harsh and un­fair, but a close-knit fam­ily and child­hood friends can help to wipe away the tears and pain. Build­ing to an un­for­get­table and pow­er­ful cli­max, Pri­vate Peace­ful is the­atre at its best - invit­ing au­di­ences to share col­lec­tive joy and grief. Direc­tor, Ann El­li­son said: “I vividly re­mem­ber my daugh­ter, Alexa, com­ing home 15 years ago hav­ing just seen Pri­vate Peace­ful per­formed in Bris­tol. She told me what an ex­traor­di­nar­ily mov­ing piece of the­atre it was and urged me to read and pro­duce it with Next Stage. “What could be more fit­ting than bring­ing it to the stage in this par­tic­u­lar week - the 100th year an­niver­sary of the Armistice which ended the Great War of 1914-18. Even re­hears­ing it in an empty the­atre this piece has the power to stir and com­pel and both Kris and I have been very moved re­search­ing and work­ing on it. “Now it needs the added in­gre­di­ent of an au­di­ence to hear the story of Tommo Peace­ful, which, whilst set a cen­tury ago, still res­onates to­day. As the hor­rors and in­jus­tices of war in­crease in this trou­bled age, Tommo’s plight and his stand for free­dom and fel­low­ship strikes a uni­ver­sal chord.” Ac­tor Kris said: “Work­ing on Pri­vate Peace­ful has been a new and ex­cit­ing chal­lenge. “Hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to work on a one-man pro­duc­tion is one I did not want to miss. Learn­ing the many dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, with their own voices and nu­ances, has been an ab­so­lute joy to work through with direc­tor, Ann El­li­son. “I look for­ward to ev­ery­one see­ing these dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters within the play as I fill the stage with each of their in­di­vid­ual sto­ries. In par­tic­u­lar, Pri­vate Tommo Peace­ful has be­come a char­ac­ter I have grown fond of and his story, like many of the real life boy sol­diers, is one I will al­ways re­mem­ber.” A com­pelling play, sym­pa­thet­i­cally adapted from Michael Mor­purgo’s un­for­get­table story, Pri­vate Peace­ful is Next Stage’s fit­ting trib­ute to the gal­lantry and brav­ery of the mil­lions of sol­diers who lost their lives in the Great War and whose sac­ri­fices will be es­pe­cially re­mem­bered this year as the world com­mem­o­rates the 100th an­niver­sary of the Armistice that took place on Novem­ber 11 1918. Pri­vate Peace­ful runs at The Mis­sion The­atre un­til Satur­day, tick­ets cost £12.50. Tick­ets are avail­able on­line at www.mis­sionthe­atre.co.uk/tick­ets or call 01225 428600 nextstage­bath@aol.com or from Bath Box Of­fice - 01225 463362 Next Stage The­atre Com­pany is proud to be rais­ing funds for The Royal Bri­tish Le­gion in a col­lec­tion at each per­for­mance of Pri­vate Peace­ful.

Kristofer Rose as Pri­vate Tommo Peace­ful

The Shot at Dawn me­mo­rial at the Na­tional Me­mo­rial Ar­bore­tum

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