Journey's End

R.C. Sherriff
Icarus Theatre Collective, Original Theatre Company, and Anvil Arts in association with South Hill Park Arts Centre
The Haymarket, Basingstoke
(2010)

Publicity photo

While I cannot speak for the rest of the full house at the close of Alastair Whatley's gripping new production of R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End at The Haymarket, Basingstoke, this week, my own feelings were of something lost.

Nothing wrong with the performances, rather my own inability to pay the company proper respect. For within seconds of the silencing of that dreadful barrage at St Quentin, the full company were on stage for their so well-earned call.

Whereas I was gripped still with the enormity of it all. A few moments of silence was required - perhaps even a glimpse of sunset - while I, and for all I know the rest of the audience, too, digested what we had just seen.

That may seem a petty, even ungracious, complaint after a splendid revival of Sherriff's bitterly realistic depiction of life in an officer's dugout during the last days of The Great War. All the same, I think that directors have a duty not only to entertain but also to remember just what impact their work, especially at its best, may have on us.

That aside, the first and last impression of this production is of Victoria Spearing's excellent set. I could feel the discomfort, taste the bodged food, and I could hear the rats.

Only the birdsong is missing - strange thought that: in the midst of carnage are, sometimes, birdsong and sunlight.

The ten-strong company are all of them heroes, from Private Mason's gallant catering against the odds; Trotter's heartfelt grumbling about the same food and Hibbert's desperate attempts to cheat his way out of it all to the sanctuary of the MO's tent. Even he, in today's enlightened times, can be hero rather than coward.

Graham Seed, too, is a splendid "Uncle" Osborne, chewing amiably on his pipe as he chats nostalgically about life in the New Forest, before checking his watch and stepping out to an inevitable death.

Tom Hackney's Raleigh is nicely fresh faced with a well-judged touch of hero-worship in his voice, contrasting well with the biting cynicism of Christopher Harper's excellently paced Stanhope, the role so briefly created by the young Olivier.

Knight Mantell is the Colonel, with a ruthlessly stiff upper lip, while Zac Houlton is the Sergeant Major, Hubert Mainwaring-Burton the luckless German prisoner and Alastair Whatley the officer who helps set the scene before climbing, it seems, out of the dugout and out of the war.

This production is touring to The Lighthouse, Poole; The Hexagon, Reading; Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy; The King's, Portsmouth; Loughborough Town Hall; The Gala, Durham; Buxton Opera House; South Hill Park Arts Centre; The Wilde Theatre, Bracknell; Devonshire Park, Eastbourne; Theatre Royal, Winchester; Key Theatre, Peterborough; The Brunton, Musselburgh; Derby Theatre; Harrogate Theatre and The Byre, St Andrews.

This production was reviewed by Steve Burbridge at Durham

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole