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A CurtainUp Review
Journey's End in London by Lizzie Loveridge
The play had problems in initially finding a backer to take it into the West End because it has no leading lady (in fact, no women at all) and only one set, a dugout near St Quentin in Picardy, France. However excellent notices led to its being very popular. The accompanying programme to this latest revival gives the play's fascinating history and success which led to fourteen companies performing it in English by the end of 1929. James Whale the film director and Laurence Olivier are two famous names associated with Journey's End. Sherriff went on to write the screenplay for HG Wells' The Invisible Man, Goodbye Mr Chips and The Dam Busters.
Most of the characters are from the English middle classes, young officers who played cricket and rugger at school and whose favourite adjective is "topping". The levity of the humour and the stiff upper lip serve to disguise what these men are really feeling. Stanhope (Geoffrey Streatfeild) uses alcohol to cope but is merciless in his treatment of potential deserter Hibbert (Ben Meyjes), despite having some of the same frightened feelings himself.
The play gives a picture of the day to day existence of these British soldiers waiting to go on watch and waiting for the big 1918 German offensive to start. They focus on the mundane like the terrible food and the way the tea tastes of onions. Twenty one year old Captain Stanhope, remarkably, has been at the front for almost three years. Into his company comes eighteen year old Raleigh (Christian Coulson) who knew him at school and who hero worships Stanhope who is engaged to his sister. Raleigh's arrival disturbs Stanhope's separation of home and war. Stanhope's second in command is the forty year old teacher, Lieutenant Osborne, played by the avuncular David Haig. Osborne and Raleigh are selected to front a very dangerous mission from which neither is expected to return.
I very much liked David Haig's linchpin performance as Osborne, the older man, a steadying influence on the other members of the company. I was less impressed by Geoffrey Streatfeild, whose explosive rages are meant to be displays of stress rather than bursts of bad temper. I would have welcomed someone more likely to be twenty one and maybe more charismatic. Stanhope has this conflict of wanting to protect the younger man, but also knowing he must not display favouritism. Christian Coulson is excellent as the new recruit, with enthusiasm before, and despair after coming into first hand contact with the cruelty of war. Ben Meyjes too, convinces as the troubled Hibbert who Stanhope threatens with shooting as a deserter. Paul Bradley's Trotter is laid back and amusing and Phil Cornwell's cook is splendidly adaptable producing food under intolerable conditions.
Jonathan Fensom's set looks authentic, cramped, dark, makeshift with huge girders supporting the dug out structure. Army uniforms are the genuine article.
The final ten minutes of David Grindley's production are the most evocative and will stay with me forever. In the last few moments, the noise of cannon and grenades gets louder and thick smoke enters the collapsing dugout. The curtain is lowered and the audience are left for several minutes in complete darkness, still with the deafening sound of warfare. Then, slowly the curtain raises and, instead of the low ceiling dugout, there is this tall, pale, ghostly war memorial inscribed with the names of the dead from the Great War, which fills the stage area from boards to flies. In front of the litany of names, stand the company, stock still, in military gabardine coats, jodphurs and boots, carrying their gas masks and rifles. It is as if they are a sculpture, a group of men cast in stone, a tribute to those young lives lost. Around me, teenage schoolgirls poured out emotion as they sobbed in distress.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide