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Journey’s End, Duke of York’s Theatre

R.C. Sherriff 
Directed by David Grindley
Courtesy of TimeOut
Ordinarily, we reserve the elusive five stars for productions which have broken the boundaries in some way. Frankenstein was unlike anything I’d seen before, and One Man, Two Guvnors was the single funniest production I have ever had the pleasure of watching. David Grindley’s production of Sherriff’s Journey’s End doesn’t deliver anything ground-breaking – in many ways it doesn’t allow for much artistic license since it is in essence a naturalistic production. What it does deliver is two and half hours of mesmerizingly perfect theatre. I have seen a number of different productions of this classic play (one of my personal favourites) but never have I been so gripped by Sherriff’s highly emotive drama. I honestly can’t think of a way to fault it, it really was magically good.
Sherriff’s script has always been a classic. It’s a deeply moving story of life in the front line trenches of World War I. The beauty of the script is that despite its simple and unpretentious plot, the characters are recognisable, deeply complex and very human – the deeply troubled Captain Stanhope, the hero worshipping and naïve 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh, the terrified and stuttering 2nd Lieutenant Hibbert and caring Lieutenant Osborne (known affectionately as Uncle) who has his own problems that you can’t quite put your finger on. These three dimensional characters make the play – you can always sense that there is something simmering below the surface of each character that is being held back in a typically British, emotionally hesitant way. It is this level of realism that has always attracted me to Sherriff’s masterpiece. 
Of course none of the above can be delivered if the performances aren’t good. Fortunately in Grindley’s production the performances are outstanding without exception. James Norton’s Captain Stanhope is magnificent, delivering the deeply complex character with the utmost precision. The on-stage relationship between him and Dominic Mafham’s brilliant Lieutenant Osborne exhibits incredible chemistry, and Mafham’s individual performance is also excellent, playing Uncle to all the men with a reserved temperament and a watery twinkle in his eye which bubbles over into painful tears on one wonderfully moving occasion. Indeed the entire cast plays their part in such a way that there is not a single performance I can fault – Christian Patterson’s rendition of the jovial 2nd Lieutenant Trotter perfectly breaks up the more intense moments, and Graham Butler’s portrayal of the young Raleigh was also spot on. In essence, it was a series of polished performances with no weak links, a rare and laudable achievement. 
Jonathan Fensom’s set delivered exactly what was needed, and Jason Taylor’s lights were simple but effective – just how they should be. In particular the ending, one of the rare moments where a bit of creative ingenuity can be used, brought a tear to my eye and left the audience sat in sombre silence at the end. I feel as if I should also say that the idiotic member of the audience sat in the front row who turned on their phone during the black out at the end should be banned from the theatre, as should the ridiculous individual next to me who loudly asked ‘is he dead?’ during one of the most poignant moments of the play. However not even these morons could dampen my praise for this genuinely stunning production. 
In summary, this production is a total triumph, and a truly memorable piece of theatre. If you can, go and see it – it would appear that despite its quality it was not quite sold out, which is a total travesty! Again, I reiterate that it is not a ground-breaking piece of theatre, but instead just a production of such outstanding quality that I left the theatre feeling overwhelmed.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Journey’s End runs at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 3rd September 2011.

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