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Byline: Catherine Jones

PRIVATE PEACEFUL Playhouse IT was Wilfred Owen who said 'my subject is war, and the pity of war'.

But it could quite easily apply to Michael Morpurgo too, the author visiting and revisiting the fields of Flanders in his novels for young people.

Private Peaceful (named after a real soldier whose grave Morpurgo spied) is particularly poignant - the story of an ordinary squaddie from rural England facing extraordinary circumstances in fields far from home.

-The age recommendation for this stage version is eight and up, with the shows attracting lots of school parties. I wonder if eight is a little young however, certainly unless the subject - of summary military justice being meted out at the wrong end of a firing squad - is sensitively touched upon by teachers ahead of their visit.

There were several little girls I overheard at the interval who weren't sure what they were actually watching.

That's certainly no failing by Scamp Theatre and Fiery Angel, the companies behind this touring production, or their actors - Paul Chequer and Andy Daniel are sharing 'Peaceful' duties, and you can see why.

The show runs, discounting the interval, at about 85 minutes in which the actor, in yesterday's case Daniel, is the sole teller of Private Tommo Peaceful's tale.

Daniel happily proves a naturally engaging storyteller, and his narrative moves on in lively fashion through Tommo's boyhood in Devon - peppered by hardships, for the most part sunnily-borne.

His Tommo has a simplicity and openness of spirit which delights in small pleasures like the song of birds and the feel of mud between his toes, while playground bullies and intimidating teachers are seen off by the big brother he hero-worships.

These motifs return later in the story when Tommo and brother Charlie sign up to fight. Teachers are replaced by bullying sergeants, and the sucking mud is no longer something to love.

Charlie remains his hero, however, and Morpurgo fans should be aware the play - paced out by the ticking of Tommo's watch - has a very different, albeit as affecting, ending, which clearly signposts it's compassion, not cowardice, that ultimately seals Private Peaceful's fate.

9/10 poignant
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 7, 2014
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