RC Sherriff's vivid 1927 account of life and death on the front line stands at the apex between the awful reality of the Great War itself and almost everything written since.
Until Journey's End, no one had dared stage a theatrical play set in the Somme of 1918, let alone with unknown actors. Yet some ten years after the Armistice, Sherriff's utterly honest, largely personal, story released forces now to be found in a range of work from Oh What A Lovely War! to Blackadder.
The current revival directed by David Grindley prospers in a manner not dissimilar from that of James Whale's original 1928 production, which transferred from the Apollo to the Savoy. Opened at the Comedy last January to initially modest audiences boosted by parties of curious students, Journey's End quickly registered with a vast army of older, occasional theatregoers.
Recently transferred to the Playhouse theatre with a new cast, Journey's End is speaking volumes to generations, now themselves ageing, whose forbears gave their lives and times between 1914-18. With no let-up in numbers of 'teenage students catching their first glimpse of the reality of trench warfare, the production is set for an autumn move into the North West and a national tour.
As members of the original 2004 company moved on to other prior commitments, Phillip Franks took over from David Haig as Osborne, Ifan Meredith now plays 2nd Lt Hibbert and David Sturzaker replaces Geoffrey Streatfield as Stanhope, the role first played by an unknown Laurence Olivier.
For what it is worth, Franks' "Uncle" is more contained while the performances of Streatfield together with Tony Kebble as Raleigh lend more credibility to their schoolday relationship. The continuation of other, original players, notably Paul Bradley's amiable Trotter with his concerns about onion tea, ensure the consistency of this fine piece of theatre.
Jonathan Fensom's dugout gets ever more rat-infested and claustrophobic while the unexpected silence of the trenches increasingly makes the final, dreadful blitz of howitzers just about unbearable.
Philip Fisher reviewed this production, with the original cast, at the Comedy Theatre.
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole