While Journey's End is ostensibly a First World War story of heroism and futility, RC Sheriff's play, which is now celebrating its 75th anniversary, is far more than that.
In many ways, it depicts the masculine life in microcosm. To be ordered to the front was a death sentence and, conversely, life sped up for those there. The play could as easily be showing the lives of half-a-dozen mayflies as the soldiers for whom three days are like a lifetime.
As young Raleigh (Christian Coulson) arrives in Jonathan Fensom's lovingly reconstructed officers' trench, he meets a professorial father figure, Osborne (David Haig), who sets out the rules.
Raleigh soon meets his childhood hero, Captain Stanhope (Geoffrey Streatfeild), a kind of older brother figure whom he worships. After three years at the front and having lost everybody whom he has come upon, the 21-year-old Stanhope is driven by whisky, which he prefers to pure funk. He is the stuff that heroes are made of, captain of the XV and XI and now a leader in a million.
These three are joined by cowardly Hibbert (Ben Meyjes), unimaginative Trotter (Paul Bradley) and the very distinct lower classes led by Mason (Phil Cornwall), who are treated like servants even in these conditions.
Where David Grindley's production of Journey's End really scores, is in the way in which war can act as a metaphor. Stanhope is a paragon and the way in which he treats his men could be used as a leadership masterclass today. The contrast between this and the more laid-back style of Osborne is masterly. Sherriff compares them with the unthinking tyro and the common man.
This production has a great set, symbolism derived from natural life to contrast with unnatural death and stunning sound effects, courtesy of Gregory Clarke.
These all add to excellent performances from Geoffrey Streatfeild as the haunted, stressed Stanhope and David Haig as the avuncular Osborne to make for a really thought-provoking and tear-jerking evening.
David Grindley's unconventional vision gives the play a very moving (and explosive) ending that will leave audience members stunned and potentially prone to nightmares.
It also makes a passionate case against war that sadly, is still timely today.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version
Kevin Catchpole reviewed the transfer (with a largely new cast) to the Playhouse
Reviewer: Philip Fisher