AN ASPECT of the First World War that’s rarely explored is the execution of hundreds of British soldiers for cowardice – and it’s what attracted Andy Daniel to the leading role in Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful.
“It’s told from the perspective of Tommo Peaceful, an underage British soldier, as he waits to face the firing squad at dawn,” Andy explains.
“Tommo is desperate not to waste the time he has left to him. He re-lives his whole life with the audience, remembering his childhood in Devon with his best friend and brother Charlie and the love of his life Molly and, of course, going off to war.”
The actor, who has appeared in Journey’s End in the West End and on TV in Call The Midwife, Doctors and US show Legends, says it’s particularly poignant to be raising the issues in the centenary year of the end of the war.
“It is of course important to remember and honour those who fought in the war and to keep their memories alive,” he says. “It was such a brutal and destructive conflict, and we shouldn’t forget that we are fortunate to have avoided a conflict on a similar scale for the last 70 odd years.
“However, what makes Private Peaceful particularly important is that it highlights a part of the war that until very recently was forgotten or ignored – the execution of soldiers for cowardice.
“We shot 306 of our own soldiers during the First World War, some of whom were clearly suffering from shell shock or what is now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome,” says Andy.” The plight of young boys like Tommo should not be forgotten.”
Apart from the poignancy, Andy adds: “The play is such a wonderfully constructed piece of theatre and it really does affect people a great deal. Tommo is just such a kind and fun character to play and you really do get to create a warm, strong bond with audience throughout the show, which is really special.
“I hope that in some way it makes people think about those who tragically lost their lives or their loved ones in that war 100 years ago.
“But, having said that, I hope they’ll enjoy the storytelling first and foremost! It’s a piece of entertainment and, while the message of the piece is really important, I want everyone to have a good time and enjoy spending an hour or so with Tommo, who really is a sweet and rather funny person!”
Private Peaceful will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Monday and Tuesday next week, 8 and 9 October.