first night

Journey's End

Maurice Samely is impressed by DUCT's production of 'Journey's End'

 

This is a play about coping, and director Samantha Ball and her cast’s rich, nuanced and perfectly paced adaptation goes deep into the hearts of the men in the trenches in 1918. R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End depicts soldiers’ defensive responses to the cold, rough presence of death and the terrifying suspicion that what actually reigns alone in war is pointlessness. From top to bottom, colonel (Sebastian Woollard) to cook (Dominic Goodall), we are privy to a spectrum of attempts at mental escape from the grave of humanity.

 

The first sight of the props and costumes was overwhelming, and great credit must go to the Producer Dominic Waters, and Assistant Producers Charlotte Thomas and Zoe Coxon for getting their hands on a truckload of historical objects: rifles, cigarette cases, posters, an ancient copy of Alice in Wonderland, and best of all, an exquisite collection of army uniform – dark green jackets over pale green shirts and ties, with caps, wide legged trousers and boots. Apart from 2nd Lieutenant Trotter’s (Rhys Williams) fat-suit, which made him look like he had a pair of cats rolling around down the front of his shirt, the costumes were perfect.

 

None more so than George Platt’s, whose Captain Hardy dressed impeccably to compliment his preference for the best bed in the dugout, away from the servants. It was a shame we could not see more of Platt, who was excellent as a queasy mixture of a man, in whom smoothness went alongside awkward, damaged laughter, and the two parts were separated by delicate pauses and neurotic turns of the head.

 

The captain coming in to replace Hardy for a six-day shift at the front is Stanhope, and it is around him, and Sasoon Moskofian’s wonderful character study, that the play and its characters come to revolve. Sherriff’s piece takes down illusions about bravery, and what it means to ‘be a man’ in a war, and Moskofian achieves an embodiment of an outwardly fierce character, ‘an excellent captain’ in the words of his Lieutenant, who suffers just as dreadfully in the war as everyone else. Whiskey numbs him, and he needs to be drunk every day to cope. Moskofian’s performance is quite startling, and apart from one moment where his expression could have had greater depth (the first moment of recognition of his old school-friend Raleigh) he is superb, flashing into rage more convincingly than I have seen on stage in Durham, and often immediately breaking down into a tender depression.

 

Stanhope’s friend and disciple, Raleigh, gives the counterpart to Stanhope, and Joe Stanton plays him well, as his keenness to come to fight with his hero is gradually destroyed. Submissive and eager to please, he is cowed by Stanhope, and quickly broken by the war. But he begins to see to the centre of things, something Stanhope does not allow himself to do. Stanton adeptly brings out the quiet resolution of his character as the piece progresses.

 

This was a very polished cast, and there were strong performances from all the supporting characters. Adam Cook as Lieutenant Osborne creates a genuinely powerful moment, staring in front of him sitting at the table, alone on stage, minutes before he is to go on a raid. We see the fear of death makes his eyes go dark – a moment of sane response to the madness of war that he quickly has to erase as another character joins him on stage.

 

Samantha Ball, directing, deserves praise for allowing the piece to run slowly. There are several early scenes of conversation that would have been spoiled had they been performed with anything other than a soft hint of melancholy. This aspect of the performance gives the production texture, and allows the exposition of each of the characters’ mental states – a real achievement.

 

One aspect of the show was unsuccessful, and this was the humour in the play. Jokes that have simply dated with the script and moments of nervous delivery served to spoil many of the comic moments, but this was not to the detriment of the production, as the presence of weak, sometimes incomprehensible gags made the pathos even more affecting.

 

Finally, Sound Designer Jono Tiffany and Technical Director Gabriel Finn did well in selecting and integrating the noises of machine-guns and shells, which particularly heightened several moments of the play, where the tender bodies of the men were put side by side with the deep, inhuman sound of the guns.

 

28 February 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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