Underbelly, McEwan Hall, Bristo Square (Venue 300)
Aug 10-12, 14-25
Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes
This deeply moving play by the former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo tells the story of young Tommo Peaceful. In a powerful one-man show Tommo tells the story of growing up in the Devon countryside in the shadow of his big brother Charlie. He tells of happy times at school; how he met Molly, the love of his life – and that of Charlie’s – his guilt at the death of his father in a tree-felling accident.
Tommo is sitting by himself and walking around the stage with only a bed as a prop. Interspersed between his reminiscences he keeps checking the passage of time on his watch; his father’s watch which we learn was later given to him by Charlie. Gradually, as the rapt audience hang on every word, we realise that something is wrong. This young lad of sixteen – who lied about his age to join up – is in a condemned cell. He had a travesty of a trial that lasted less than an hour and he is due to be shot at dawn for cowardice in the face of the enemy. No wonder he keeps checking the time.
Coming at the centenary of the start of the Great War in 1914 this play is a timely reminder of that bloody slaughter that offers a counter-argument to those jingoistic revisionists of the Michael Gove school who try to whitewash the conflict as just and necessary when it was plainly neither.
The lighting and staging and the sheer talent of Andy Daniel, the young actor portraying Tommo, succeed in building up the atmosphere. The audience – laughing easily at some of Tommo’s innocent recollections of his early school days – are soon reduced to rapt silence and then to tears. This was Fringe Threatre at its best.
Just one word of warning, though for the vertically challenged. Short people should avoid the front two rows. The seats are packed in very tightly to the front, so you’ll find that the stage is very high and you won’t see much. These seats must have been placed by a race of giants.
***** Five Stars
Reviewed by David Kerr