RC SHERRIFF’S Journey’s End, written ten years after the end of the First World War and based on his own inescapable memories of the trenches, is widely recognised as one of the greatest plays about the conflict.
It was chosen by Merlin Theatre Productions as its contribution to the Frome-wide commemorations of the centenary of the end of the war.
It is directed by Stephen Scammell, whose radical Tempest was on the Merlin stage two years ago, and who once again designed and lit a convincing set.
He concentrated on the internal lives and motivation of the characters – something that is more usually done by allowing them to develop on stage as the play progresses. That, and the bunker’s entrances and exits being from the top of the theatre up the long flight of steps, slowed the production, which ran for more than three hours.
There are some excellent performances from Frome actors who have clearly thought long and hard about the characters they play. What seems to be missing is the tense energy of the story as this group of very different men wait for the Big German Offensive in the almost certain knowledge that they will not survive.
What we know is that the story is set at the end of the war.
Peter White is the anguished Captain Stanhope, a man beloved both by his officers and men, and by his old school friend Raleigh, (an impressively keen and ardent performance by George Tuckey) recently sent to serve in this bunker only 100 yards from the enemy lines.
Poor Steve Waterfield, as the shambling cook Mason, has so much bum-scratching to do that the rest of his actions are lost – though the smell of bacon filling the auditorium at breakfast time in the trenches was an added bit of sensory prompting.
Kevin Ross is a quiet and thoughtful Osborne, and Richard Pugh a welcome comedian as the irrepressibly hungry Trotter. Patrick Withey’s terrified Hibbert was poignantly done.
Journey’s End is a play that continues to punch home the futility of war, and as such can inform new generations.