UK Theatre Net Review - Journey’s End

DOMINIC MAFHAM

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What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.


Journey's End is the Olivier-nominated, Tony and Drama Desk award winning production directed by David Grindley that is now on tour after winning critical acclaim in the West End and on Broadway.

Based on the author’s own experience, the play remains an important reminder of the horrors of war and of the men who fought it. When the actors take their bows long lists of names of fallen soldiers are projected against the back wall.

In the days leading up to the last great German offensive of the First World War, Raleigh, an 18-year-old soldier, joins a besieged company of soldiers in the British trenches at St Quentin. To his great joy and surprise he finds the company commander to be his old school friend Stanhope. However, Raleigh soon discovers that his boyhood hero has changed greatly from the fresh, energetic rugby and cricket player he so admired. Wrecked by the destructive nature of war Stanhope now relies on whisky to be able to keep his calm and set an example as a leader of men.  

Journey’s End is not an uncritical celebration of heroism. The futility of war is a theme that runs through the play. A green, inexperienced officer is selected to lead a charge against the enemy no matter what the cost. The officers agree that Germans are quite decent – unless you read the papers – and they do not really know why they should kill them except that it is war and they are the enemy.  

The relationship between the heroic yet flawed Stanhope (James Norton) and the sweet and naïve Raleigh (Graham Butler) forms the heart of the story and both actors are fantastic. But this is a true ensemble piece with an outstanding cast.

I especially enjoyed Dominic Mafham’s touching performance as the gentle, loyal Osborne known as “Uncle”, Christian Patterson as the easy going Trotter who always seems to be eating, and Tony Turner as the mass orderly Mason whose specialty is onion tea.  

The stage design (Jonathan Fensom) effectively reflects the claustrophobic life in the trenches when soldiers vegetated in rat-infested dug-holes betting money on earwig races while being plagued by lice and fleas. The lighting is dim and atmospheric simulating the light of candles and gas lamps.    

Although the play itself seems somewhat dated in its structure and dialogue this excellent production shows how relevant the subject matter still is today – 90 years later!