Journey’s End @ Oxford Playhouse

Posted: March 15, 2011 in Play
Tags: , ,


After a successful run in the West End in 2007, David Grindley has revived his Olivier-nominated, Tony and Drama Desk award winning production production of Journey’s End for a 9 month UK tour.

Written by R.C. Sherriff in 1928, Journey’s End is an honest and heartbreaking story of life in the trenches based on Sherriff’s own experiences during the First World War. The story follows the young officer Raleigh, newly arrived on the front line in the days leading up to the last great German offensive of the First World War. Eager to please his fellow officers and new comrades, he meets Osborne, Hibbert, and his childhood friend and hero Stanhope. After three years on the front, and having lost everyone he knew during that time, Stanhope is teetering on the edge of a breakdown.

This production was impeccable. The set and lighting allow the audience to be sucked into what life was like for these men. The one room we saw was kitted out to the exact dimensions of an officers trench, while the lighting was dim, flickering, and gloomy. The sound, something so easily ignored under normal circumstances, provided moments of theatrical wonder as we heard the dull thud of bombs above us, followed by the distant patter of gunfire. This constant but distant presence was an incredible feat, and meant the louder more dramatic moments came as even more of a shock.

The acting was the real star of the show here. R C Sherriff has created a fascinating dynamic between the characters, brought vividly to life by this incredible cast. I could go into detail about each performance in this show, but there is little point. Suffice to say that each member of the cast gives an incredible performance. Truly incredible. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy is as gripping as it is realistic, and there isn’t a single weak link in the cast, however there were two stand outs. Dominic Mafham’s Osborne is portrayed with quiet dignity, and provides moments of wonderful pathos – most notably when speaking with Stanhope in the hours leading up to suicidal raid on the enemy trench. Even in this, the moment of is inevitable death, his main thoughts lie with his new comrade, the 18 year old Raleigh “There’s no need to tell him, it’s murder.” he says almost genially. It sends a shiver down the spine.

I cannot talk about this show, however, without singling out James Norton. His Captain Stanhope teeters on the brink of sanity in a way I just hadn’t imagined when reading the play (something I have done many, many times.) Clinging to the vaguest sense of himself, Stanhope struggles with his demons with a quiet intensity that is almost painful to watch. The whiskey he drinks is now the only thing that makes his existence tolerable, and as he tries desperately to appear unaffected to his comrades, we see heartbreaking moments of revelation as Stanhope cannot help but show how much three years of war has affected him. It is a stunning and beautiful performance, and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

 Those who know the script will know the heart-breaking and tragic end to this play, but David Grindley’s vision gives the final scene a raw intensity that will leave audience members stunned. I have never experienced leaving a theatre, with six-hundred people around me, in complete silence, every person stunned and awed by what they had seen.

The script is still as relevant as it ever was and, sadly, still has a valid message about the futility of war. If you only see one production this year, make it this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s