Thursday, 3 March 2011

Journey’s End – Darlington Civic Theatre

Writer: R.C. Sherriff
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Ian Cain

Having seen a previous production of ‘Journey’s End’ (although not in the capacity of a reviewer) I was looking forward to the experience again. It was only when I took my seat in the auditorium that I began to realise that the production that was about to commence was not the same one that I watched back in March 2010. Last time round, as you entered the auditorium, you were confronted with the immediate presence of the magnificent set – a rat-infested, claustrophobic , dank dug-out – whereas this time it was concealed from view by a drop-cloth featuring the iconic image of Lord Kitchener, imploring the fact that ‘Your Country Needs You’.

Once the curtain was raised, I was equally as impressed by Jonathan Fensom’s set as I had been by that of Victoria Spearing’s last time. The dark, dingy dug-out looked remarkably similar in construction and was every bit as evocative.

‘Journey’s End’ is a classic story of war and humanity, set in the trenches of the Somme during World War One, based upon Robert Cedric Sherriff’s own personal experiences of trench life. The central character is the young, charismatic, but ill-tempered, Captain Stanhope (James Norton) who must lead his men whilst also attempting to control his own war-weariness and increasing dependency on copious amounts of whiskey. Stanhope is just about holding it all together until the arrival of the fresh-faced 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Graham Butler), a former schoolmate and the brother of the girl Stanhope hopes to woo, sets in motion a chain of events that ends with devastating consequences.

The piece is very much an ensemble one and other characters provide moments of light and shade throughout: the father figure of Lieutenant Osborne (Dominic Mafham) is a reassuring, level-headed presence and he is affectionately referred to as ‘Uncle’ by the younger men; 2nd Lieutenant Hibbert (Simon Harrison) claims that he is suffering from neuralgia and is derided as a coward, although he is clearly suffering from what we would now term post-traumatic stress disorder; 2nd Lieutenant Trotter (Christian Patterson) is larger than life in character and body and seems as concerned about what will be served for the next meal as he does about the progress of the offensive, and Private Mason (Tony Turner) is the much maligned cook who has to concoct culinary creations from the most basic of ingredients.

Despite the fact that ‘Journey’s End’ is a compelling story that serves to remind us of the futility of war, a couple of things marred this production for me: firstly, too much emphasis was placed upon the ‘class’ of the officers – situations, people and events were too frequently referred to as ‘topping’, ‘thrilling’ or ‘jolly good’ – and this pomposity somewhat prevented me from really engaging with the characters; secondly, Gregory Clarke’s sound design was, at times, highly excessive and the theatre literally shook when some of the on-stage explosions went off.

That said, the performances of the eleven-strong cast were excellent and the applause from the audience at curtain-call was long and enthusiastic.

Runs until Saturday 5th March 2010
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