STAGED to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, the Norbury Theatre’s production of Journey’s End could not have been more perfectly poignant.
The play was written by RC Sherriff, a captain during The Great War, who based it on his time in the trenches and the characters he encountered. The action is set just days before a major German offensive,
When you think of the battles undertaken by the soldiers who served in the conflict, you think of the gunfire and shells across no man’s land and the ‘over the top’ scenarios.
But this piece, and RC Sherriff’s experiences, brought to life more than that – the elements not written about so much in the history books.
While there is, of course, the backdrop of the danger and potential death for those involved, it was the much more mundane aspects which successfully took the crowd back 100 years.
The concerns about having a decent chef to cook the meals, the disappointment of having to have apricots rather than pineapple chunks and the sunrises and birds singing which still exist, even though there are more pressing matters ahead.
Also conveyed is the ‘pawns in the game’ scenario which many would have questioned back then – the way the Germans (the enemy by rights) would have had the same trepidation about the situation they had found themselves caught up in.
Among the backdrop is a plethora of black comedy which adds to Journey’s End’s humanification of The Great War.
The set was clever both in its claustrophobic appearance and in its versatility for the fatal finale.
But it is the characters which determine the impact of plays and this is where the piece is at its strongest.
Matthew Jeffrey was excellent as the firm but fair Captain Stanhope. He is a ‘Marmite character’ – one minute you admire him and the next you question his judgement but the rollercoaster of emotions you feel is testament to the actor.
John Broad as Raleigh and Oli Cowlishaw as Hibbert were both taken to the audience’s hearts and the quirkiness of Trotter (Alan Humphries) and chef Mason (Rich Pedley) provided the majority of the much-needed humour.
But Keith Thompson as Lieutenant Osborne provided the most perfect portrayal on the night and had the crowd in the palm of his hands throughout, with his words of wisdom, calming influence and, especially in the penultimate scenes, when he showed the character’s fears and the realisation of what lay ahead.
Plaudits also have to go to director Melanie Brown for this production – it was a brave project to take on for such an important milestone and, knowing it was more than a year in the planning, the hard work has paid off.
Seldom do you see a show which puts modern day trivialities in perspective but this one does just that.
As the crowd filed out, they did so with lumps in their throats, in complete silence and many with tears in their eyes, such was the impact of what they had witnessed.
The next performances are tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday, November 3, at 7.30pm. The remaining stagings are at 7.30pm Thursday to next Saturday, November 8 to 10, with a special production on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day, Sunday, November 11, at 4pm.
Tickets are available at norburytheatre.co.uk or by calling 01905 770154.