Watermill Theatre - Journey's End
11th September to 11th October 2014
Review from Newbury Theatre.
2014, and it’s another First World War play: R C Sherriff’s Journey’s End, first performed in 1928 and drawing on his own wartime experiences as an officer.
On the front line near Ypres in 1918, we are in a dugout which is the eating and sleeping quarters for five officers commanded by 23-year-old Captain Stanhope. Joining the group as a replacement is Second Lieutenant Raleigh, just out of school and on his first posting. All is quiet, but a big German attack is expected imminently.
The play takes us through to the attack and its aftermath, drawing out the fears of the officers and the coping strategies they use. Although most of them have public school backgrounds some have risen through the ranks, and while the distinction between the two classes is referred to, this is not an important factor in the group dynamic. They generally support one another well, the exception being Hibbert, whose suspected cowardice incurs Stanhope’s wrath.
Stanhope is a complex character: driven, brave but tormented by his own fears, he turns to drink (in large quantities) to keep his demons at bay. William Postlethwaite’s strong performance brings out all this and more – bitterness, suspicion and ultimately compassion.
James Mack was outstanding as Raleigh, puppy-like and eager at the start, thrilled to be in his hero’s company, then becoming more disillusioned but failing to understand that the other officers’ bravado and jokiness at the chicken dinner was an attempt to hide their unhappiness.
As ‘uncle’ Osborne, Jim Creighton combined common sense with stiff upper lip reserve, which crumbled when he thought about happy times on leave with his wife and garden, and the possibility of not seeing them again. This was a very sensitive and well-crafted performance.
In the strong supporting cast, Edward Killingback did well with the unlovable Hibbert, providing a good contrast to the repressed fears of the others, and Ben Worth as Mason the cook provided some humour as he struggled to make the most of the meagre provisions.
The play was enhanced by Katie Lias’s atmospheric set, and the important sound and lighting effects. Director Paul Hart has given us a production that is moving, thought-provoking and an unforgettable window onto a world where sacrifices great and small were made in the name of duty.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Journey along the road to hell
RC Sherriff's stark reminder of the horrors of war, directed with passion
Journey's End, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until October 11
In this year's 100th anniversary commemoration of the First World War, The Watermill production of RC Sherriff's Journey's End is a compelling, stark reminder of the horrors of the Great War, based on his experiences of being an officer in the trenches.
It was first performed in 1928, 10 years after the war ended, when the nation was still reeling from the loss of so many of its young men.
Katie Lias' detailed atmospheric set perfectly evoked the officers' quarters near St Quentin in 1918, filled with the detritus of war, as the occupants try to bring some form of normality to the horrors they faced. There is a disturbing routine to their lives.
The officer in charge, Captain Stanhope, powerfully played by William Postlethwaite, is a 21-year-old ex-public schoolboy; former captain of the first 11, who is admired by his men. However, the past three years have left him disillusioned and exhausted by the war and he copes by drinking copious amounts of whisky.
His fellow officers are an eclectic collection of characters including pipe-smoking schoolmaster Lt Osborne, known as uncle, a thoroughly convincing performance from Jim Creighton, who reads Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in order to remain sane.
Lt Hibbert (Edward Killingback) is trying to buy his ticket home to Blighty through feigning illness, perhaps what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.
By contrast, Trotter (Jonathan Dryden Taylor) is the stoical officer, counting the days on a chart, ensuring he is well fed and writing letters home as part of his six-day posting to the front line.
Upsetting this equilibrium is the arrival of the young, innocent and naive Raleigh (James Mack) who believes that this will be one great adventure. He is soon to find to the contrary.
He attended public school with Stanhope and hero-worships him, but soon discovers he has changed dramatically.
Robert Fitch is the colonel, anxious to achieve a victory in the push forward, while Ben Worth is salt-of-the-earth Mason, who cooks for the officers, bringing a welcome touch of humour to the play.
David Broughton-Davies is the stoic sergeant major, rallying the troops to face the horrors of going over the top. Time is almost at a standstill as everyone waits for the attack and the tension created is truly palpable.
The ending is heart-wrenching as the inevitable tragic climax is played out.
Directed with passion and clarity by Paul Hart this is a moving, thought-provoking production.
There are reviews from The Stage ("it is the strength of characterisations that develop the sense of both physical and emotional incarceration" - 4 stars), WhatsOnStage ("a production that vividly evokes and explores the horror, pity and futility of war" - 4 stars) and TheGoodReview ("by the time the story reaches its devastating conclusion there are tears on faces in the audience and a feeling akin to awe in the auditorium" - 5 stars).