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This is not a phoney war, but a real one, with all the sacrifices that entails

Review by David Munro

I DID not see the original cast of this production of Journey’s End (which has been reviewed on this site) but if they were one half as good as the cast I saw last night they justified the praise that has been showered on them.

As everyone by now knows, the play deals with life and death in the British trenches during the 1914 – 18 war, and way that the various protagonists deal with the strains and stresses that war and the conditions in the trenches place upon them.

The action is bracketed by the arrival and death of Raleigh, a virtual schoolboy and, in a way, one views the action as he sees it.

The Captain in charge of the small unit billeted just behind the front line is Stanhope, a man Raleigh had known and hero-worshipped before the war and who is in love with Raleigh’s sister.

Stanhope has sought relief from the horrors of his command in whiskey which, while not affecting his performance as a soldier, clouds his judgement in his relationships with his junior officers.

The mainstay of the unit, and in one sense the play, is Osborne, an ex-schoolmaster, known affectionately as Uncle, whose calm common sense keeps Stanhope and his other officers on an even keel.

Malcolm Sinclair plays him to perfection mixing humour , commonsense and authority into a believable whole, overriding the petty squabbles of the others with the authority he had acquired in the classroom. A performance that is so natural that one forgets he is an actor playing a part.

The other two officers, Trotter, who has risen from the ranks, and Hibbert, who is feigning illness to get his release, are equally well played by Ian Burfield and Rufus White, respectively, and they, too, made their characters convincing despite the stereotypical aspects of their parts.

The main dramatic impetus comes from Stanhope and Raleigh.

Stanhope is apparently the West End debut of Brendan Patricks, although you would never know it from the assurance he brings to the part.

My only criticism is that his early scenes with Raleigh and Osborne are keyed at too high a pitch which diminishes the effect of his near breakdown later in the play.

Apart from that, it is an impressive performance and one which would have done credit to any actor with greater experience than his.

Peter Sandys–Clarke is apparently another debutante in the West End although his performance belies his avowed immaturity.

It is a well-paced portrayal of youth, fresh from school, unaware of what he is getting himself into, and only gradually becoming aware of his situation and responsibilities.

His eager acceptance of a dangerous mission becomes eroded as the time of departure approaches and he reverts to the scared schoolboy seeking re-assurance from his schoolmaster, Osborne.

His acting in this scene was a masterpiece of pathos and effective underplaying.

In fact, this scene between the two of them, which could have been mawkish, was in fact one the most moving moments of the evening due to the dramatic expertise shown by the two actors. Mr Sandys-Clarke makes his debut a memorable one.

The rest of the cast are really supernumeraries; other ranks, captured German soldiers, etc although, again, they are well played and convincing in what they are called upon to do.

In particular, Paul Brightwell makes an amusing character out of the wry, laconic orderly, Mason.

When a cast is as good as this one, you tend to overlook the enormous input the director must have had.

David Grindley’s direction is unobtrusive but it’s impact is enormous.

From the barrage of gunfire before the curtain rises, to the final cacophony, he does not put a foot wrong.

The characters are real, as are the situations they are in. This is not a phoney war, but a real one, with all the sacrifices that entails.

For two and a half hours, you are living in the trenches and that, to me, is no mean achievement for a director.

The set of Jonathan Transom is what one would expect from the pictures and descriptions one has read of life in the trenches.

The only minor cavil I have with it is that it did not give feel of cramped space and claustrophobia inherent in the real thing, which I have seen and experienced.

Nevertheless, it enhanced the action and seemed as squalid as it should be, so perhaps it is unfair of me to niggle.

I was sorry when the curtain fell , but there is a tour in progress, with yet another cast which I intend to catch.

Journey’s End is definitely worth a journey to see, and one I will willingly take knowing what a pleasure awaits me at the journey’s end.

I strongly recommend that you take that journey too.

Journey’s End by R.C. Sheriff; Director, David Grindley; Designer, Jonathan Fensom; Lighting, Jason Taylor; Sound, Gregory Clarke; Fight Director, Paul Benzing.
CAST: Charles Daish; Malcolm Sinclair; Paul Brightwell; Peter Sandys-Clarke; Brendan Patricks; Ian Burfield; Rob Heanley; Rufus Wright; John Elmes; Ralph Gassman; Paul Henzing.
Producer, Phil Cameron for Background.
Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5DE.
Mon – Sat: 7.30 pm
Mat- Thurs & Sat . 2.30pm
Box Office: 020 7369 1785

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