This production was narrated by Michael Morpurgo himself and was more than ably supported by an a cappella trio, Coope Boyes and Simpson. The concert comprised Morpurgo reading extracts from his bestselling book Private Peaceful interspersed with songs. At first tunes you would have learned as a young child, then familiar and not so familiar melodies from the First World War and finally some more sombre hymn-like numbers.
This was a production particularly aimed at children and families, although it works equally well for an entirely adult audience. It was billed as a concert and had I closed my eyes it would have been nigh on perfect. Morpurgo, for a writer, turned in a superb performance as narrator really bringing his characters and their story to life. He had an impressive command of all the voices that he needed from his first teacher, a Scottish woman, to the Sergeant Major on the parade ground. Not only was his delivery excellent but the words were being spoken by their creator!
The musical accompaniment was no less impressive, a flawless rendition of entirely apposite songs. Their delivery was in pitch perfect three part harmony with crystal clear diction. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven.
So, ten out of ten then? Er well, I am afraid not because this was theatre and I had my eyes open. The set was pristine in its simplicity, with Morpurgo set on a stool downstage right and the trio sat on chairs arranged behind microphones downstage left. The stage itself was well lit and displayed a pleasing black and white pattern, so far so very good. It was the costuming and movement of the performers that fell well below the standard that should be expected. The a cappella trio had clearly been told to wear black and march off at the end of the first half and back on at the beginning of the second.
Firstly every black garment is a different shade of black, similarly with shoes, some shiny some dull. If the trio are to be dressed uniformly then it must be sharp, precise, identical. I thought that dressing the singers in World War One uniforms would have added much to the period of the piece. Secondly, if the costuming was bad then the marching of the singers was risible. It was not the character ‘Charlie’ but the person responsible for directing this production that should have been subjected to “field punishment number one” … or worse.
To keep the younger members of the audience engaged perhaps some images, statistics, song lyrics could have been projected onto the stage. On the subject of younger audience members this production is billed as for children ‘10 years and above’ and so you would have to be comfortable with song lyrics which included “men up to their balls” and “shagging behind the line”.
The main features of this production, the content and delivery, were without doubt worthy of every superlative. For it to be let down with peripheral matters such as movement and costume is heartbreaking. This production is just a few hundred pounds spent on costume and a few days in a rehearsal room with a drill sergeant short of magnificent.
Private Peaceful: The Concert was performed at the Nottingham Playhouse on 14 October 2012.