DTR - Review of Journey's End

Journey's End

Thu 27th February – Sat 1st March 2014

reviews

Louise Message

at 12:01 on 28th Feb 2014

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It is March 18 1918 on the Western front, and a group of soldiers are holed up in an officers’ dugout for four days. They are immediately confronted with boredom, madness, alcoholism, and rats: lots of them. R.C Sheriff’s landmark play was never going to prove to be the easiest of productions, at once cynical, darkly humorous, and ultimately, deeply harrowing. However, it is a challenge Durham Classical Theatre rise to admirably.

Raleigh (Joe Stanton), an impressionable young lieutenant, is immediately thrust into this world of chaos and degradation when he volunteers for the company of Captain Stanhope (Sasoon Moskofian), his school friend and childhood hero. Despite Lieutenant’s Osborne’s (Adam Cook) warnings, Raleigh refuses to acknowledge that Stanhope is no longer the man he once knew, thanks to his crippling alcoholism. This will ultimately culminate in circumstances which are both unforeseen and profoundly poignant.

Such issues are handled sensitively, with just the right dash of comic timing, by the clearly accomplished cast. Adam Cook’s Osborne is certainly the stand-out performance of the night; he offers paternal authority, empathy and dry humour in equal measure, all of which are enhanced by an equally impressive moustache. Joe Stanton offers a nuanced performance as Raleigh, at once awkward and blundering but ultimately capturing the wide-eyed naivety that was so common in new recruits to the ‘Great War’. He easily cranks up the intensity in the play’s final acts, resulting in scenes that are genuinely heart-wrenching to watch.

Sasoon Moskofian’s Stanhope provides a fascinating parallel to Stanton’s Raleigh. He captures Stanhope’s boyish qualities effortlessly, and this particularly shines through in his jibes and scenes with Osborne. His Stanhope becomes deeply human, reminding us with pathos how he is still very much on the cusp of childhood. However, on occasion, Moskofian delivers a performance that is one-note and simply too intense, meaning moments of genuine emotion often lacked impact. Rhys Williams’ Lieutenant Trotter provides a fascinating foil to the intensely brooding character of Stanhope, providing moments of humour that initially felt stilted but soon become darkly comic once Williams has settled into his rhythm. However, Dominic Goodall’s Private Mason certainly comes up trumps in the humour department with his bumbling Mason, perpetually serving up fare that bear more than a passing resemblance to college meals, whilst George Platt’s early appearance as the delightfully odious Captain Hardy firmly establishes the play as a tragi-comedy, and so deserves a special mention.

The cast cope surprisingly well with the brave directorial decision to use improvisation. Though at times it seems that this was a new concept to some cast members, for the most part it gives a sense of naturalism that underscores the modest nature of the play’s characters. This is enhanced by the production’s minimalistic set, comprising largely of a kitchen table and black screens, and the intimacy of Grey’s Fountain Hall enhances the paranoia and claustrophobia that comes in tow with war. The company’s use of original props and costumes further adds to the authenticity of the production and subtly draws our attention to the play’s perennially fascinating underlying theme: the way in which ordinary people cope under extraordinary circumstances.

Journey’s End, for the most part, does a great credit to Sheriff’s seminal work. The cast share a chemistry that results in a real camaraderie, which also, on the other side of the coin, exposes the pain and heartache that arise when these relationships are rent by war. The production effectively captures the damning nature of not only physical, but psychological warfare and comes highly recommended. A fitting commemoration of the Great War’s centenary.

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