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Written by: R.C. Sherriff

Directed by: David Grindley

The Public Reviews Rating:

I saw this production of Journey’s End at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London about five years ago and I always remember it as one of the best productions I have ever seen on stage. So I was excited to see that the same production of Journey’s End was coming to the Oxford Playhouse. At the same time, I was a bit concerned that the play had been magnified in my memory, and seeing it again might be a disappointing experience. I needn’t have worried. David Grindley’s production is every bit as stunning and astonishing and moving as I had remembered.

Journey’s End is set in the British trenches in France in the First World War, and follows C Company’s stint on duty before an impending German attack. Here we meet our main protagonists – Lieutenant Osborne (played by Dominic Mafham), Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Graham Butler), Captain Stanhope (James Norton), and Second Lieutenant Trotter (Christian Patterson).

The play is essentially a waiting game. We sit with these men in the trench – beautifully recreated on stage with an incredible feeling of authenticity – and countdown the moments to the impending raid, to the German attack, to the end of the journey for these men. The mundane conversations held by the men, the minutiae of life as it is lived out – from earwig races, to drying socks over candle flames, to the contents of today’s sandwiches – contrasts with the constant knowledge that these men at any moment may be obliterated by enemy forces, that they are continually risking their lives. The cast play out this tension superbly; the strength of their performances absorbing the audience fully into the moment. Mafham and Patterson as Osbourne and Trotter are thoroughly engaging in portraying the depths of their characters; Norton captures the full complexity of Stanhope – his renowned leadership skills, his compassion, his torture at all he has seen, his shame at what he has become.

And as the scenes progress, the growing tension and tedium of waiting is matched by the increasing rumble of guns and explosion of bombs, at first distant, and then, as the play unfurls, with heightening volume and proximity. The sound effects are used adeptly throughout the production, creating, towards the end of the play, almost unbearable tension. This is underlined by moments of silence, and even at one point an entirely empty stage. Switching between noise and silence, from tea-drinking to raids, with all of the action of the war taking place off stage, the audience is carried on a most intense journey of its own.

The play ended in a moving tribute to those who lost their lives in war. The audience filed out of the theatre in hushed quiet. This play is affecting in the extreme, and it leaves a lasting effect. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a highly successful London production here in Oxford. It’s not easy viewing, but it is an exceptional piece of theatre. I am happy to say that it remains one of my all-time favourite productions. I urge you to experience it too.