REVIEW: A fascinating and deeply moving drama about men at war

Ben Andrew as Stanhope. Picture by Kevin Day
Ben Andrew as Stanhope. Picture by Kevin Day

Journey’s End by RC Sherriff, The Archway Theatre, Horley, until April 9

In the hustle and bustle of the modern world it’s easy to forget how good we have it. After all, there are traffic jams, high rents, giant workloads and growing concerns about disconnected politicians.

From left: Tony Godden as Osbourne, Tom Robinson as Raleigh and Peter Westmacott as The Colonel

From left: Tony Godden as Osbourne, Tom Robinson as Raleigh and Peter Westmacott as The Colonel

We deal with a lot on a daily basis and then, when we try to relax at home, we turn on the TV and the news shows us all the other bad things that have happened in the world.

It often doesn’t seem like we’re living the good life but, believe me, we are.

Anyone who doubts this should watch Journey’s End by RC Sherriff, which is on at The Archway, Horley, until April 9.

The play is about a group of British army officers living in front-line trenches during the First World War, just before Germany’s 1918 spring offensive. Raleigh, a young officer straight out of school, joins the company, looking forward to seeing his old friend Captain Stanhope again. However, war has changed Stanhope, who has hit the bottle to cope with the strain.

This is a story of men pushed to the limit by constant danger and the looming spectre of death and Ben Andrew brings Stanhope to life beautifully. I’ve been impressed by this young actor’s Archway performances in several previous shows, but I think this is his best work to date. He portrays a young man who is old beyond his years. Short-tempered, bitter and scared, Stanhope keeps himself together most of the time, but flashes of emotion and terror escape, and Ben is very skilled at revealing his character’s inner conflict.

Meanwhile, Stuart Finlayson, shows the effects of war on a weaker man as Hibbert, realistically demonstrating what it looks like when all this panic comes to the surface.

Journey’s End isn’t just about the emotional impact of war though. The script explores many fascinating ideas about duty, honour, sacrifice, romance and friendship.

Its emphasis on time is particularly strong too, showing how war either involves long, boring periods of inaction or very quick events full of violence and horror. Tony Godden, playing the kind-hearted Osbourne, reveals this in a riveting scene with Tom Robinson (Raleigh), as their characters try to cram a whole evening’s conversation into eight minutes before a deadly mission into No Man’s Land.

It’s not all doom and gloom either. There are a few funny bits, thankfully, with Matthew Abbott getting the biggest laughs as dim-witted cook Mason. Olly Reeves also gets some great moments as the overweight Trotter, who passes the time either by eating or thinking about his next meal.

In fact, every significant event in the play, whether amusing, tragic or thrilling, works well, thanks to expert direction by Gary Andrews.

The superb set is effective too, capturing the wretched atmosphere of a WW1 dugout and hinting at the awful devastation outside.

Click here to find out more about the Archway Theatre.

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