Private Peaceful (Ambassadors Theatre)

‘The effect of watching a young cast who are themselves the age of many of that dreadful war’s victims is undeniably powerful’

Simon Reade has re-adapted Michael Morpurgo's First World War drama, which he originally conceived as a one man play, for the National Youth Theatre as part of their new West End residency.

The new version produces mixed results. On the one hand it facilitates a more complete rendering of Morpurgo's story, which centres on a 16-year-old soldier (Tommo) reminiscing about his life in Devon on the eve of facing a firing squad. But on the other it puts an emotional distance between the audience and the plight of the doomed boy.

Paul Hart's production allows the NYT rep company to showcase some sublime ensemble work – the company movingly evoke everything from Devon forests to Flanders battlefields – and also features some stand-out performances, notably Fabian McCallum as Tommo's brother and love rival Charlie, and Kate Kennedy in a trio of eye-catching cameos.

But, in this centenary year when WWI plays are a dime a dozen, this latest rendition of Private Peaceful feels a little too conservative. It takes Morpurgo's tale back to a rigidly linear structure and, crucially, lacks the emotional punch of the one man version at the climax. I was also unconvinced by the somewhat clunky device of having an 'old' Tommo narrating the journey of his younger self (played by Sam Hevicon and Stuart Wilde respectively).

However, the effect of watching a young cast who are themselves the age of many of that dreadful war's victims is undeniably powerful, and it was encouraging to see the many school parties around me so gripped by the unfolding tragedy of Tommo.

The NYT Rep Company's Season featuring Selfie, Private Peaceful and Macbeth runs between 17 September and 28 November at The Ambassadors Theatre.

For more from the National Youth Theatre and to book tickets head over to the NYT page.