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DOMINIC MAFHAM

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David Grindley first staged his critically acclaimed revival of Journey’s End in the West End in 2004 – 5. He has now returned with a new cast to tour the country once again and this production is a must-see for those who missed out the first time round.


R. C. Sherriff’s play offers a compelling insight into life in the trenches towards the end of the First World War, based on Sheriff’s own experiences, and has become a favourite on school reading lists. And any student studying the text should make an effort to see Grindley’s production, which excellently captures the emotional struggle of five officers trying to come to terms with the war.


The play starts, quite literally, with a bang, as the audience is descended into pitch darkness and the loud sounds of the war taking place above the dugout flood the theatre. Sound is a key theme throughout the play: the eerie calmness occasionally interspersed with periods of gunfire and exploding grenades at the beginning is replaced by a cacophony of noise at the end, in the play’s dramatic conclusion. The set is also excellent – dingy and claustrophobic – and Grindley’s production effectively gets across the atmosphere encountered by the soldiers, appealing to all the senses.


But the real appeal of this play lies in observing the relationships between the main characters, most significantly between Captain Stanhope, convincingly played by James Norton, and 18-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Graham Butler). New recruit Raleigh and his older school friend Stanhope, who has already been at war for three years, represent opposite extremes and the development of their relationship is compelling to watch.


The most outstanding performance, however, comes from Dominic Mafham as ‘level-headed’ Lieutenant Osborne. Mafham is excellent as the kind-hearted schoolmaster whose mere presence reassures the other officers, but whose own fear is concealed until he trembles violently trying to light his pipe before leading a raid on the German trenches. Although not all of the acting is as convincing, the juxtaposition of the comic – most notably provided by Christian Patterson as Trotter – and the tragic makes this production hard-hitting and gripping.


By Carly Price.