Review: Journey’s End

The Drama Barn drafted in the new term last night with Journey’s End, a 1928 play by British writer, R. C. Sheriff, harkening back to his experiences serving as a captain in the First World War. Daisy Hale and Edd Riley’s production of Journey’s End gave a sombre salute to the 100 year anniversary and to the men of the War to End All Wars, setting the standard for the Barn’s upcoming season. Journey’s End will be marching through to Sunday 12th October, so purchase your tickets to avoid disappointment. All proceedings will be donated to The British Legion.

The close quarters of The Barn and barrack styled seating provided the perfect shell for Journey’s End’s set. The aesthetic research was unparalleled with the historical and textual accuracy echoing right through from the actors’ physicality, to the intricacies of Kate Stephenson’s costume design, to the spatial and atmospheric execution of Thomas Ryalls and Jordan Licht’s set. The technicians Stephen Hutt and Grace Lievesley’s soft soundscape of shell explosions served as a constant reminder of the horrors that lay beyond the barrack walls and complimented the grim set composed of sandbags, haphazard wooden structures and a single, haunting candle flickering bleakly throughout.

The remarkable aesthetics of the production was deeply complimented by a myriad of stunning performances.

Sam Hill as Captain Stanhope and Josh Welch as Lieutenant Raleigh undoubtedly stole the show last night. Hill’s multi-dimensional characterisation of Stanhope depicted not only the erratic and violent nature of a young man driven to alcoholism as his innocence is stripped by his experiences of war but also the fact that, despite having rank and responsibility thrust upon him, he is still only a child himself. We see the latter surface in a series of childish rages and glimmers of vulnerability sparked the appearance of his childhood friend, Raleigh, to the ranks.

What struck me was Josh Welch portrayal of Raleigh’s emotional and psychological shift throughout the play, from a naïve young boy fresh from school, to within a matter of days having his view of the war completely eradicated, becoming visibly hardened by what he encounters. His character’s idiosyncrasies shone through, exposing his inexperience and young age through his shy and clumsy behaviour.

Even the minor roles had an incredible resonance: Declan Dillane’s cold and unfeeling portrayal of The Colonel represented war officials whose desire for glory choked any empathy for the men who died to achieve it. Isaac BD multi-rolling as Captain Hardy and a German solider was performed with excellent polarity. This decision to multi-roll gave Hardy’s “ear-wig races” (in which defenceless animals suffer for sport echoes the mindless brutality of the war) greater poignancy as both characters were men simply doing their duty, simply on different sides.

Ross Cronshaw, despite his years, portrayed Osborne with the maturity required of the rational thinking, level-headed father-figure of the company. Ross Telfer as the Sergeant-Major served as a believable and dignified informant for the company. In contrast, Michael Smith played Hibbert’s vulnerability and weakness to the point where our sympathy extended not only to him but all involved.

Mason, played by Tim Kelly as serious and disciplined but lovingly dim man, provided the comic relief required to break up the long spouts of dialogue that occur in one central space and stopped the performance from becoming stagnant. We also find comic relief in James Dixon’s character Lieutenant Trotter’s distinctive physicality and sustained humorous characterisation.

Although I found myself wanting the rises and falls in tension to be pushed more by the actors at certain key moments of the performance, as my first experience of anything performed at The Drama Barn I was exceedingly impressed and would whole heartedly recommended conscripting everyone to come and experience Journey’s End.