Sobering, saddening and poignant are three terms I used ten years ago to describe my trip to the Western front as I paid my respects to thousands upon thousands of British, German and French war graves. Tonight, I found myself using the same three terms to summarise ‘Journey’s End’ by the Broadstone Players. If you are unable to experience the cemeteries and memorials scattered throughout the countryside of Northern France, then this play is guaranteed to evoke similar emotions.
Written by R.C. Sherriff – himself an army officer in World War One – the play is set entirely in an officers’ dug-out over the course of four days. It offers a glimpse into the lives and relationships between five army officers as audiences gradually realise the outer banter and jokes hide an inner emotional turmoil. With it’s authentic dialogue and demanding emotional sequences, ‘Journey’s End’ demands a strong male cast to bring it to life; something not lacking in this production.
The stand-out performance must go to Chris Stowe in the role of Captain Stanhope. The emotional range displayed by Chris is simply outstanding. A multi-layered character, Stanhope is demanding of an experienced actor who can both demand respect whilst offering small glimpses into his fragile mental state without erring on the melodramatic. Chris rises to the challenge successfully and his portrayal of the character’s worsening alcoholism is both authentic and heart-wrenching. This is an actor who knows when saying nothing is more powerful than saying something; a performance the audience will remember.
Also in Stanhope’s company is his second in command, Osbourne, portrayed by experienced actor Stuart Glossop. It is obvious Stuart is familiar with the role, having undertaken the part eleven years ago, as he acts as the stable patriarch of the group – interestingly other characters often call him uncle. Osbourne’s maturity is balanced well against the naivety of new, young officer Raleigh, played by Michael Griffiths. Originally an upbeat personality – with plenty of “right-ohs!” thrown in for good measure, I imagine Raleigh’s journey encapsulates the experiences of many young men in World War One, as the image of the glamorous war hero fighting for home and country crumbles around him. Officers Trotter (Calum Williams) and Hibbert (John Sivewright) are equally well acted, with the former’s loyalty and the latter’s increasingly desperate emotional state coming to the forefront.
The cast are supported by an impressive set and ambience. The authentic costumes and props bring the performance standard from ‘good’ to ‘excellent.’ It is clear effort has been made to immerse the audience in the soldiers’ world – from the authentic smell of bacon at breakfast to the abundance of war props aligning the walls of the dug-out.
Where director Peter Watson evokes the most memorable sequence however is during his unconventional yet poignant curtain call which, happening immediately after a heart-wrenching climax, leaves the audience considering the themes explored throughout the performance. Raleigh describes the war as ‘silly’ and this was the word I was left on – loss of life on this scale and the inner turmoil it leaves behind is simply ‘silly.’ There is no need for more sophisticated analysis in this reviewer’s opinion. Peter has also put a unique emphasis on local Dorset soldiers who served in the war, as the walls of the venue were dotted with tributes to individuals, many of whom died on the Western Front. This went down well with the audience.
As a twenty-four year old, I felt increasingly saddened to note the play has overwhelming generated an audience of retirement age. This is a play that needs seeing by all ages with its message needing carrying forward into future generations. The director comments he wanted to make the play ‘come alive’ for today’s audience – and he certainly succeeded, if only those younger audiences were there. It is worth saying the play is fairly lengthy but this isn’t too noticeable once engrossed in the action.
Overall, this is a successful tribute to Britain’s war dead. Well done to cast and crew. Performances at Broadstone’s War Memorial until Sat 24th, 7.30pm (Saturday matinee at 2.15pm).