HAS The Barn Theatre Found The Next War Horse?

The Barn re-opened their doors on Thursday (September 10) for their first indoor performances since the theatre closed at the start of March.

Their first production? A transfer of Private Peaceful, a two-hand adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s beloved tale, following its sell-out run at the Barn’s first outdoor theatre festival, BarnFest.

Before I talk about the production I wanted to commend and highlight the adaptations the theatre has taken to open their doors whilst ensuring their patrons are safe.

From checking temperatures on arrival to their spacious new layout with Perspex screens between booking groups, the theatre has stopped at nothing to ensure that by the time you are sat in your seat you have no reason not to “sit back, relax and enjoy the show”.

I truly felt like I was in the safest pair of hands and I wish they could have seen the joyous smile I had behind my mask at seeing such dedication to get live theatre back on its feet.

Set amongst the backdrop of the First World War, young soldier Private Tommo Peaceful (Emily Costello) takes us through his life and the events that led to him being called to the firing squad.

Private Peaceful, which has been adapted to the stage by Simon Reade, takes a folktale approach with a minimalist set that puts emphasis on the art of storytelling and the two actors’ exquisite performances.

Bringing a childlike innocence to the character of Tommo, Emily Costello’s breath-taking performance ensures that there will not be a dry eye in the auditorium when the show reaches its climax.

Tommo serves as our narrator throughout the tale and Costello commands the stage throughout, ensuring that not only the story flows seamlessly but that we feel the growth and evolution of Tommo through each monologue.

James Demaine provides the perfect counterpart to Costello.

Not only does he play copious instruments throughout the performance but also beautifully portrays the different figures that influenced Tommo’s life including his cherished brother Charlie.

From the second he starts his sombre take on the classic nursery rhyme “Oranges & Lemons” it is clear that whilst Costello is our guide and constant, Demaine is our enigma that we watch morph with ease from an omniscient accompanist to a formidable scene partner.

Never do the two performers touch throughout the performance however Alexander Knott’s direction and Zöe Grain’s movement direction prove that sometimes restrictions can produce creative gold dust as they utilise the distance to utilise the space in some truly creative ways it also helps accentuate that we are currently viewing these events through Tommo’s psyche.

It is incredible to think that they have adapted their production for an indoor space in such a small amount of time as there is so much detail throughout the direction of this piece.

The creative team has been expanded for the indoor transfer with Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner (lighting design) and Harry Smith (sound design) joining the team to provide the extra magic that really sets this production apart.

The war scenes, during the second half of the sixty-minute production, are particularly stunning utilising shadows and silhouettes to create the illusion of a large scale of commotion and action.

There is a great sense of unity between the technical elements and the flow of the narrative that makes it extremely difficult to believe that these elements have only recently been added to this production.

I am not surprised that the Barn put their faith in this production to re-open their stage.

This co-production by BoxLess Theatre, the Barn Theatre and Take Two Theatricals proves that sometimes it is the smaller and more intimate shows that pack the most powerful punch.

I sincerely hope this will not be the final incarnation of the production and that we might see it follow in its predecessor War Horse’s footsteps to the West End and beyond.

The production runs until September 27 with special family ticket deals for all performances.

Get your tickets quickly for this five-star production whilst it is in the Cotswolds as I have a feeling that we will all be excitedly telling our friends “I saw it in Cirencester first!” very soon.

For tickets, visit barntheatre.org.uk or call 01285 648255.