By Peter Maddern
History has been reasonably kind to Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, at least in the English speaking parts of the Western world. Less biased observers may well have lumped him in with other butchers of the 20th century such as Stalin and Pol Pot. For amongst his many atrocities it was he who personally signed off on the orders to kill his own men by firing squad; men, well boys often of the likes of Private Peaceful who, overcome with the terrors of trench warfare just couldn’t go on – all in the name of soldier discipline.
Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo as adapted by Simon Reade, Promise Adelaide presents Ben Francis in Private Peaceful for an all too short season at the Bakehouse. Tommo Peaceful, like Ben, is 17, a lower middle class boy in somewhere England with ordinary adolescent interests – hanging with his brother and eyeing the girl next door. When the recruiters came his brother and he decided to enlist spurred on as much by patriotism in the name of some God who didn’t seem to be doing his job very well and for fear of being branded a coward by the sticky beaks of the village.
It is hard to overstate the quality of Francis’ performance. Eighty voices and characters in 80 minutes with an accent held strong throughout his pangs of love, the pain of injury and the paralysis of fear, throwing himself around a Bakehouse floor every bit as unwelcoming as the trenches he portrays.
This reviewer last saw him as the jazz singer in IT’s Great Gatsby where his notable performances were nonetheless constrained by staged movement. 18 months on, Ben Francis has blossomed and, in his Peaceful, emerged as one of Adelaide’s most talented male actors, of any age, let alone still as a teenager. His is a performance worth cancelling all prior engagements for. A stunning one man debut!
His work displays all the usual gloss of Rob Croser’s formidable stable of young performers and is aided by his direction and his and David Roach’s staging, one that keeps a rollicking pace and the sound cue button of Stephen Dean red hot with action.
After the schmozzle of Long Tan, Promise Adelaide, Francis and Croser just show that it is often not on the biggest stages in this town that the best theatre arrives.