This is the third time I have seen David Grindley's production since it opened at the Comedy Theatre in January 2004, the second encounter being at The Playhouse beneath the new twin Hungerford Bridges. And far from diminishing in its impact with each return, the performance grows ever more in stature.
Many of us, I dare say, are drawn to this play by our links, through parents and other loved ones, to those four years of human carnage that we ourselves could never have known. Certainly,World War Two is that much closer to our time - yet even that bears upon those of my generation only through nights of air raid sirens with parents bearing us, wrapped in siren suits, to the nearest community shelter. Later nights spent in our own Andersen in the garage, were cloaked in juvenile excitement as neighbours, hearing the drone of overhead planes, murmered darkly: "It's one of theirs...and it's loaded."
For the rest, World War 2 was a kaleidescope of town parades, school campaigns and nights spent by the wireless listening to ITMA!
The Great War, on the other hand, was another thing. The bitter experience of fathers, grandfathers - and of John, the love of my own mother who never returned from the Somme.
It has taken three performances of R.C.Sherriff's Journey's End to convey to me an understanding of how pathetically young were these boys sent to the front over four years from 1914.
Ben Righton, for example, who plays the remarkable Capt Stanhope, Commanding Officer of the men in our trench, graduated from the Webber Douglas Academy only last April, while Tom Payne, who plays 2nd Lt Raleigh, and Robert Orme (Lance.Cpl Broughton), are also making their West End debuts. Others, like Robert East, the ruthless colonel, have been around rather longer. As has Michael Siberry, the gallant Osborne, and Roger Walker, the food-loving Trotter.
The present company are directed by Tim Rosemen who loses none of Grindley's magic.
The dug-out setting is once again brilliantly achieved by Jonathan Fensome with the awesome effects of enemy action are by Gregory Clarke and Marcus Christensen.
Children of a new generation, experiencing this production for the benefit of school examinations, will take a whole new comprehension to their local cenotaph in future. While I shall remember the last words of the unknown John who wrote to his girl in England: "Send us a line before we go up the line..." and was not heard from again.
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole