Writer: RC Sherriff
Director: James Tobias
Reviewer: Harry Mottram
We are bombed, machine-gunned and shot at, and we are only the audience. For more than two hours the soldiers pinned down in a bunker in RC Sherriff’s First World War drama battle their own demons as much as the German army.
Performed on the high stage in Tiverton Theatre, Journey’s End is an anti-war story that articulates the senseless slaughter of young lives during the 1914-18 conflict. With a mixture of doubt, jingoism and a blind sense of duty the men face up to the inevitability of trench warfare. Directed by James Tobias, the Immersion Theatre Company’s uncompromising production grips throughout, with strong performances from the cast of eight. Filled with dark humour, deafening sound effects and lots and lots of shouting it leaves the audience slightly traumatised by the end, if only from the vast amounts of dry ice wafting across the auditorium.
Stanhope is going mad, Hibbert has cracked up, the Colonel is nuts and Osborne is going over the top. Written in 1928, there is an immediacy in the dialogue, the jokes and the men’s attitudes to each other. With a set constructed of boxes, barricades, barbed wire and a few beds stuck behind the muddy ramparts on the Western Front, the audience is caught up in the claustrophobic world of the main protagonist, Stanhope. Played with an unwavering aggression by Tom Grace, he dominates the proceedings as he bullies, humiliates and cajoles his men in the face of the expected attack.
Facing him is an array of characters who all help to restore one’s faith in humanity. Matt Ray Brown as Osborne (known as Uncle) gives a suitably steady and balanced portrayal of the unwaveringly decent second-in-command, while John Rayment as the ebullient Trotter brings a prosaic believability to his character. The eternally cheerful but forgetful cook Private Mason (Ashley Cavender) has most of the funniest lines with constant interventions during critical moments to offer cups of tea. While one of the most harrowing scenes is Hibbert’s breakdown. Alexander Tol is disturbingly convincing as the soldier who can’t take it anymore in a shattering confrontation with Stanhope.
There are Blackadder Goes Forth moments with the crazed Colonel played by Peter Watts as he orders the men to attack the enemy and court certain death. Straight from the playing fields of England is Raleigh (Rory Fairbairn) played with restrained enthusiasm who symbolises the folly of blind patriotism and hero worship. Finally, Dan Dawes as Hardy completes the cast doubling up as Hardy and the weary Sergeant Major in need of some R and R.
Journey’s End contains a surprisingly large amount of black humour and the comedy of the English obsession with dinner. But there’s also fun in some of the archaic language used in the play that has since been sent up in countless comedy series such as Monty Python and Harry Enfield and Chums. It is also a timely reminder of war in an era when today’s great powers have seemingly forgotten the lessons of the past.
Reviewed on 11 November 2016 | Image: Adam Trigg