Reviewed by Fran Edwards
One-man shows are challenge for anyone, especially when the actor is in his teens. Although Ben Francis is still a teenager he is backed by a lot of experience and brings a lot of talent to this role. It is possible that being of a similar age to the character gave him more insight and he certainly had strong support in his director Rob Croser, because this is a very moving production.
The story centres on a character, Thomas ‘Tommo’ Peaceful who, although not real, is a representation of the many teenage boys who were court martialled and shot during WWI. After much campaigning they were eventually pardoned on 15 August 2006, 90 years late.
The writer of the book from which this play is written, Michael Morpurgo, found his Private Peaceful in a grave just outside Ypres and immediately knew the name was what he needed for his ‘unknown soldier’. The story is told from the soldier’s point of view on the night before his execution, reflecting on his life. Produced by Trish Francis and Promise Adelaide, Morpurgo’s story is well told, beautifully adapted by Simon Reade and brought to life by this production.
The simple set, by Rob Croser and David Roach evokes the dismal hut in which this boy would have been held and serves well as he tells his harrowing story. The accurate uniform, supplied by Ken Kurtz, constantly reminds us of the era and helps create the atmosphere. The script constantly reminds us that the minutes of his life are ticking away.
Francis’ performance is outstanding, he doesn’t play for sympathy, which would have been easy, he recounts his memories telling us of exchanges and taking on the characters he discusses with actions and accent. His West Country accent for Private Peaceful is convincing and avoids being too thick and hard to understand (as a farm boy would have been). The performance is well paced and sensitive and good enough to have the audience of school children attentive and listening.
Please do yourself a favour and catch this show during its short season. It is a story that deserves to be told and a performance you should not miss!
Review reproduced with the generous permission of Glam Adelaide.
Ben Francis as Private Peaceful