(Please note, this is a review of the London Production of 'Journey's End' directed by David Grindley. David Grindley is to direct a Broadway production opening in Feb 2007.)
R C Sheriff's First World War play celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and in David Grindley's impressive new production it remains as powerful and poignant as ever. Some of the language may be archaic but the situations it depicts and the emotions conveyed are timeless as is the constant tightrope between humour and horror as the men seek sanity in the midst of chaos.
Set in the claustrophobic confines of a dug-out in St Quentin on the eve of the war's last great offensive, the action revolves around a group of men led by Captain Stanhope, a young officer on the brink of a breakdown. Only whisky keeps his shattered nerves from complete disintegration. His hopes of anonymity are shattered when fresh-faced Raleigh joins his division, a boy he's known at school whose arrival acts as the catalyst for a dramatic confrontation.
Such a tense drama requires the finest ensemble for maximum impact and happily Grindley's cast are truly excellent. Taking the role that newcomer Laurence Olivier had in 1929, Geoffrey Streatley's Stanhope may over seem over-pitched, his collapsing morale clearly visible rather than intimated, but David Haig's genial Osborne is outstanding, a schoolmaster happiest exploring the Sussex woods of his home but determined to face all things with equanimity. His brief talk with the uninitiated Raleigh just before their ill-fated raid is a masterpiece in miniature: superb writing given flawless delivery.Christian Coulson's Raleigh is also terrific, his initial enthusiasm swiftly replaced by the shock and disbelief that must be the usual response to war's horror.
On Jonathan Fenson's realistic set, sound designer Gregory Clarke conjures a vividly realistic depiction of life in the trenches, something emphasised by the play's closing moments where a rollcall of World War One casualties unfurls behind the stationary cast. A great play given a first-class production.
Review by Amanda Hodges
This review of the London production is provided curtesy of our sister site www.londontheatre.co.uk