City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Journey's End, King's Theatre, Review

By Alex Eades - Posted on 21 March 2011

Journeys End
Show Details
King's Theatre
Lee Menzies and Act Productions Limited
David Grindley (Director), R.C.Sherriff (Writer), Jonathan Fensom (Designer), Jason Taylor (Lighting Designer), Gregory Clarke (Sound Designer).
Tim Chipping (Captain Hardy), Dominic Mafham (Lieutenant Osborne), Tony Turner (Private Mason), Graham Butler (2nd Lieutenant Raleigh), James Norton (Captain Stanhope), Christian Patterson (2nd Lieutenant Trotter), Daniel Hanna (Private Albert Brown), Simon Harrison (2nd Lieutenant Hibbert), Tim Chipping (Sergeant Major), Nigel Hastings (Colonel), Andy Daniel (German Soldier), Mike Hayley (Lance Corporal Broughton), Daniel Hanna (A Private)
Running time: 

A Journey’s End slingshots us into the British trenches of St Quentin a few days before the last great German push during the First World War. Raleigh, an 18 year old, joins up with a beaten, yet cheerful, group of soldiers only to discover that they are being led by his old school friend, Stanhope. A boy war scarred and struggling with his position as a man.

If education on conflict is to start anywhere, bar direct experience, then it really should begin here. It is rare that the truth of war is painted so unflinchingly and with such an air of squalid desperation. The whisky flows through the blood of children, whose drunken sleep no doubt pops dreams of their mothers and awakens them to their own baby screams. Cigarette smoke scratches their lungs and the tension lines their faces. There is nothing heroic here. Only naked reality.

And while war does indeed rape children of their innocence and transforms them then from men to monsters, so can it, at least for a few fleeting and treasured moments, do the reverse. The play is sensationally funny in places highlighting that, even in the face of absolute darkness, the human spirit is a tough light to keep out.

The set is as perfect as you can get. There wasn’t a single moment that I thought that what I was looking at wasn’t real. A small hut, cut in from a trench. Dark, rotten and as tired as the soldiers that it struggled to protect. It is as close as you will ever get to touching or smelling those splintered homes of WW1.

The story itself is perhaps not unfamiliar and it is easy to see where Ben Elton and Richard Curtis got their inspiration from for their famous final episode of Blackadder. The Cook character here is almost identical to Baldrick, though it is Baldrick of course who was born second.

Like ‘that’ episode, there are moments of marvellous hilarity as well as great poignancy and depth. These are all elevated to another level by the tremendous heartfelt performances given by the cast. It must be a horrendous, emotionally sapping experience to get to the place they get to every night. They are all nothing short of extraordinary.

But that is what this show is all about. The extraordinary and our ability to live with it. It thumps the soul to wonder why we do it.

We don’t really know, I guess. Because we’re told to. We do it for words we don’t fully understand: Freedom, democracy, patriotism. For slogans that don’t really mean anything: your country needs you, support our troops.

Oh, we do object. Sometimes in our millions. Not that it matters. Not that it makes a difference. Not really, though it’s nice to feel that we’re maybe doing something.

In a week where raids hit Libya and Battle: Los Angeles hit cinemas on practically the same night, it is a little difficult to understand what battles are being waged and where. The lights begin to flicker, the drums find their rhythm and the guns find their voice. “Sit back! Relax! Enjoy the freak show! We like war. We need war. We’re a war like species”.

Edinburgh run of Journey's End is now over