R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End has seen the years turn on history. First performed in the late twenties, it spoke of our servicemen and their personal histories: war took our children from their classrooms, our husbands from their wives and our sons from our arms. And yet, whilst Sherriff's play soothed Britain's post-war wounds, it now seems largely disconnected from our modern perceptions of war.
Sherriff's script wages a dignified war of distraction, galvanising his characters with idle yet vital chat of jam, "rugger" and the home fires burning. As a consequence, Journey's End does not seem as socially relevant as it might have been when the world was fresh from war and suffering shellshock and fails to condemn, or even to question, the greater evils at work outside of the trenches and creeping throughout Europe.
Jonathan Fensom's claustrophobic windowbox set is a window into our communal past. Occupying just a quarter of the stage's height and intricately detailed, the officers' quarters are murkily lit by Jason Taylor, shining a soft yet illuminating light onto the lives of those individuals forgotten in The Great war. Georgory Clarke's terrifying soundscape rumbles quietly in the distance and builds to a powerful, horrifying crescendo, inescapably pushing the scale of the Great War into the tiny space and exploding it out into the theatre.
David Grindley's cast build towards disaster just as subtly. Simon Dutton's Lieutenant Osborne is gracious and controlled, softly burning with a responsive, reassuring tone and excellent schoolmaster command. Graham Butler finds the blind naivety of war as the youngest squadman whilst Christian Patterson brightens the proceedings with a well-timed comic warmth. And yet, whilst the cast are undoubtedly endearing, their delivery is on occasion confused, uneven and stiffly presented.
Perhaps the modern audience, hardened by the lives needlessly lost to war and distanced from "the good fight" by time and experience, wants to see the tyrant beheaded and the conflict condemned. R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End does not and will not and, as such, seems a theatrical anachronism.