at the Civic Theatre
The Civic stage – bare save for a camp bed which doubles as a dug-out – is peopled with countless characters from the not-quite-eighteen years of life of Private Thomas Peaceful. . All of them brought vividly to life by Andy Daniel in Simon Reade's brilliant staging.
As in the novel, his monologue is punctuated by reference to Captain Wilkie's "wonderful watch" given on the field of battle to brother Charlie, who later bequeaths it to Tommo himself.
It's five past ten, and he has the whole night ahead of him. He'll refer to the watch as dawn approaches, wishing that it would stop and morning never come.
As he waits, he remembers milestones on life's road, from Sunday School to the Somme, with childhood incidents foreshadowing the Great War: his father's death the carnage of battle, the schoolyard the regimentation of the men, the yellow biplane the dogfight over the trenches.
The writing, and the unaffected delivery, evoke the lost, often bleak, world of Edwardian country childhood, with its woods, streams and puppy love, and the terrors of conflict, with rats, lice and rain. But even in Belgium there are idyllic moments, with Anna from the estaminet and birdsong when the guns fall silent.
There are many memorable character sketches – Mollie the childhood sweetheart, the jingoistic recruiting officer, simple-minded brother Joe, the vindictive Sergeant Hanley.
The end, when it comes on the stroke of six, is as uncompromising as the rest – a brief Miserere and, we imagine, a terse telegram home to Iddesleigh.