Set in the trenches of WW1, Journey’s End focuses on a group of officers preparing for the German Spring Offensive, depicting the brutal effect war had on men’s characters. The optimistic eyes of 18-year-old Raleigh, a new officer posted to his boyhood hero (Stanhope’s) company, provide a harrowing viewpoint into the reality of life on the front line.
First impressions of the production were good; the set was incredibly well detailed – soldier’s private possessions littered the shelves in their dugouts, and sandbags divided up the rows of audience seating. In a play dealing with subject matter that our generation can find hard to relate to, the reality of the set was an important bonus on drawing the audience in, as was the brief, but comic, bravado of Hardy’s opening. As the play progressed, particular actors portrayed very well the variety of ways the officers each dealt with the horrors of war – the beautifully grotesque, ‘simple’ Trotter contrasted well with the self-loathing, schizophrenic and whiskey-dependent Stanhope – held together by solid, unshakeable ‘Uncle’. The servant, Mason, provided perfectly-timed comic deliverance from the heavy material in the play, and Raleigh’s eager British-pup responses conveyed the youthful misconception of war appropriately. However, a little of the poignancy was lost as Raleigh appeared slightly too perceptive for his years, and believability was reduced by women-playing-men wearing eyeshadow and mascara – a careless slip in a play where elsewhere costume and set was at such a high standard. The production overall was a success, but sadly this relied a little too heavily on particular members of the cast.