R.C. Sherriff’s play Journeys End, set in a dug out near St Quentin during the last great offensive of World War One is currently not only running successfully in the West End, but also starting a major tour.
Anyone who fears the tour will not match the West End version need not fear as Philip Franks, who created his role of Osborne - the troops steadying hand and “uncle” figure - for the London revival to great acclaim, heads the cast in this tour.
The young Officer Captain Stanhope, is on this occasion played by Tom Wisdom. He is a fragile character, who has refused to leave the trenches for several years and drowns the pain and sights of war with alcohol. When he finds the new officer put under his command is a school friend he fears his fragile state will be reported back to his family, taking his delicate state of mind even nearer to cracking up completely. Having only been familiar with Wisdom via his appearances in Coronation Street and in the Sky One Sunday night serial Mile High, I am pleased to say that he does not disappoint in the role.
All the characters know they faced certain death as they play out their last hours and we are taken on the terrible brave journey with them. This play is an ensemble piece and each and every actor makes the most of their role, without exception. While we know we are watching a play it is unsettling to know that events like those in Journeys End actually happened and are still within living memory.
Designer Jonathon Fenson and director David Grindley have to be congratulated for presenting us with a play that has a ‘filmatic feel’, which is truly atmospheric. Although not wishing to spoil the end of the play I must acknowledge the final ten minutes of this production, which cannot help but move even the most hardened theatregoer.
Interestingly, the story of how Journeys End came to be written and produced is one worth telling in itself. Also the fact that the only person willing to take a chance on playing the role of Stanhope in the original production was a young actor called Laurence Olivier.
This is a first class revival of classic play and should not be missed.
- John Dixon (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle Upon Tyne)