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Journey's End

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Award-winning First World War drama by R C Sherriff

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Welcome to the Daily Info Review page for Oxford productions of Journey's End. 
Below is a history of performances of the play from 2005 to today. 
You might also like to click here for our full current Oxford Theatre listings, or here for our full Oxford Theatre Reviews Archive, where you can search an alphabetical list of plays and read what Oxford's public (and our official reviewers!) thought about them.
Happy reading!

Daily Info 2011 (Unverified), 12/04/11


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Oxford Playhouse, 21-26 Feb 2011

David Grindley first staged his critically acclaimed revival of Journey’s End in the West End in 2004 – 5. He has now returned with a new cast to tour the country once again and this production is a must-see for those who missed out the first time round.

R. C. Sherriff’s play offers a compelling insight into life in the trenches towards the end of the First World War, based on Sheriff’s own experiences, and has become a favourite on school reading lists. And any student studying the text should make an effort to see Grindley’s production, which excellently captures the emotional struggle of five officers trying to come to terms with the war.

The play starts, quite literally, with a bang, as the audience is descended into pitch darkness and the loud sounds of the war taking place above the dugout flood the theatre. Sound is a key theme throughout the play: the eerie calmness occasionally interspersed with periods of gunfire and exploding grenades at the beginning is replaced by a cacophony of noise at the end, in the play’s dramatic conclusion. The set is also excellent – dingy and claustrophobic – and Grindley’s production effectively gets across the atmosphere encountered by the soldiers, appealing to all the senses.

But the real appeal of this play lies in observing the relationships between the main characters, most significantly between Captain Stanhope, convincingly played by James Norton, and 18-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Graham Butler). New recruit Raleigh and his older school friend Stanhope, who has already been at war for three years, represent opposite extremes and the development of their relationship is compelling to watch.

The most outstanding performance, however, comes from Dominic Mafham as ‘level-headed’ Lieutenant Osborne. Mafham is excellent as the kind-hearted schoolmaster whose mere presence reassures the other officers, but whose own fear is concealed until he trembles violently trying to light his pipe before leading a raid on the German trenches. Although not all of the acting is as convincing, the juxtaposition of the comic – most notably provided by Christian Patterson as Trotter – and the tragic makes this production hard-hitting and gripping.

All in all, Journey’s End is definitely worth watching: aside from some dated public school vocabulary – everything is ‘simply topping’ – it remains frighteningly relevant today and offers a fascinating insight into both life on the Western Front and the nature of war more generally.

Carly Price (DI Reviewer), 22/02/11


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O'Reilly Theatre (Keble College), 9-11 November 2010

Set entirely in an officers’ dugout close to the front line towards the end of World War I, Journey’s End tells the moving story of a small group of officers as they wait to go over the top. We watch how the relationships between the men develop and shift over the course of a few days, and learn how they cope differently with the pressures of war.

The production of this play by Sinclair Productions is particularly timely, with the final performance set for Remembrance Day. And despite being a different country, a different century, and a considerably different way of fighting, the examination of the horror of war is particularly important today.

The way that themes can be applied to contemporary war is perhaps part of the reason why the play is still a GCSE set text. And this is where Sinclair Productions begin their own battle. The challenge of putting on a text read in schools is that the audience will naturally be made up of a large proportion of school children. And school children are probably the most difficult audience to please. There is much to commend in this production, with excellent set design, imaginative lighting, and decent performances, but the cast really struggled to keep the audience’s attention.  The funny scenes just weren’t funny enough, whilst scenes of real poignancy fell sadly flat as the tension was broken by mistimed giggling. It is easy to blame the children for not keeping quiet, but then maybe if the diction had been a little clearer, and the connection between the cast and the audience had been a  little stronger, it would have been much more difficult to become distracted.

 

Debbie Sims (DI Reviewer), 10/11/10


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007

BMH have done it again! This performance very nearly made me cry, no mean feat I can tell you. Their talent on the night was again surprising. I really enjoyed the deep performance of Edward Blagrove as the tragic hero, Andrew Blagrove played Uncle Osborn with ease and maturity obviously above his years. The whole cast did a sterling job! A mention should go to Daniel Halsall, playing the bubbling Captain Hardy with some comedy without crossing over the boundaries of stupidity. All in all this was a very enjoyable evening - the set, lights, sound and costumes all transported the audience to the dugout with the acting transporting us to 1914. Go and see this show!

R Powell (Unverified), 15/08/07


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007

Fantastic! If you want a great night out at the theatre, fight to get tickets for the latest BMH Productions' offering! This is what real acting should be - passionate, committed, great!!

Servobot (Unverified), 14/08/07


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007

The performance of R.C.Sherrif’s WWI classic last night pulled the audience right out of their seats into the dugout from the twilit beginning to the moving end. The play encapsulates the utter futility of trench warfare. Nevertheless it is a play full of heroes, coping the best way they know how. Set in a claustrophobic dugout, lit by candlelight, redolent of bacon, wet socks and onion-flavoured tea, the officers take their uneasy ease between duties.

When fresh-faced young officer, Raleigh, steps straight from the playing fields of school into the killing fields of the trenches, he expects to shine in the company commanded by his erstwhile perfect school hero, Stanhope. But Stanhope has become another man, worn down by the Russian roulette of three years at the front. Their estrangement is the grit at the centre of this play that perfectly captures the frustrations and anxious distractions of men waiting to spring into action. The officers' dugout comes complete with its own laconic Greek chorus in the person of the batman, Mason, (wonderfully played by James Lord) whose banter about inedible food and trench conditions is tackled with humorous goodwill and English understatement, helping to relieve the grim reality in which the men live.

Several performances stand out. Edward Blagrove played Stanhope with admirable restraint and a reined-in control of pent-up fury that built the tension unbearably in the face of Raleigh’s uncomprehending disillusion. Andy Blagrove as ‘Uncle’ Osborne maintained the decorum of the dugout with mature fortitude, playing a man at least twenty years older than himself. Emrys Matthews as the keen young Raleigh took a very believable journey from boyish enthusiasm to manly bewilderment. Benjamin Watts played the trench-shy Hibbert with verve.

There was an excellent choice of music throughout, atmospheric lighting and costumes that looked pretty authentic to my untrained eye. BMH is a young company with professional standards. Its young director Ashley Harvey is to be commended for bringing off a production whose humanity shines through.

A wonderful evening!

Emma Woodward (Unverified), 14/08/07


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007

It has been a long time since any stage play made me cry, but this one did. The young men who pererformed this gruelling play managed to understand, with maturity far beyond their years, that the events portrayed here are equally comedy and tragedy. War is always terrible and we need to be reminded of it as often as possible.Well done BMH Productions - you deserve an even bigger round of applause than the one you got!

Pat Williams (Unverified), 14/08/07


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007

Once again the ferociously talented players of BMH Productions show not only how good they are but also how wide their range is. Tackling R.C.Sherfiff's powerful play about life in the trenches of WW1 might have been a safe option after their sucess with everything from Shakespear to Musical Theatre - but in the hands of this company it became a triumph. Perhaps because the young actors were playing parts close to their actual ages, the play was especially moving. Edward Blagrove, Emrys Mathews and Ben Watts were particularly good, and the direction, lighting and staging were clear and exact. I wish my own grandfather, a vetran of WWI, could have seen it.

Robert Hope (Unverified), 14/08/07


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007

Parts of this play have aged better than other parts. It’s slower than modern dramas can get away with. Its attitude to war and those who fight it would have seemed shockingly candid at the time, but has since become cliché. The stiff vernacular of the characters (‘Cheer-O!’, ‘How topping!’) verges on silly.

The first way that BMH productions combat this is through realism. The set is immersive and carefully dressed. At one point we even get rain, pattering down in the exit to the trench. This proves vital in placing the audience in the play’s own time and space, and thus making it easier to believe in the characters.

The second thing they get right is the psychology. Through intelligent direction and some excellent performances it’s made clear to us that the stilted dialogue is a genuine defence mechanism. These men are definitely ‘in touch with their feelings’, and know what would happen to them and those around them if they allowed those feelings free reign.

When that honesty does break through, in some sterling two-handers in the second half, the tragedy is magnified. Awaiting an almost certainly suicidal raid, the tolerant and avuncular Lieutenant Osborne (a subtle turn from Andrew Blagrove) and naïve recruit Lieutenant Raleigh (Emrys Williams) grope helplessly for a vocabulary of alienation and psychic damage that isn’t going to be available to them for another forty years.

We are also taken beyond the staggering news that war is bad, or that those who run it have little regard for those who fight. A lazier production might present the jittery Lieutenant Hibbert (Benjamin Watts) as a sensitive hero, or the Colonel (Alexander Williams) as a blustering Melchett. Instead there is a suggestion of virtue in squaring up to the job at hand, even in impossible situations. When Captain Stanhope (Edward Blagrove) demands that Hibbert stops whining and takes his place with the rest of the men, you begin to see his point.

There are some weaknesses – some fluffed lines and repetitive humour. The main problem, however, is the ending. A death scene of Little Nell-ish risibilty (It’s…frightfully dark in here…’) is not much improved by the appalling decision to close the play with an a capella rendition of ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’. It runs the play aground on the sentimentality that it has managed to steer around so successfully for the rest of the evening.

Matt Bright (DI Reviewer), 14/08/07


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007
First World War dramas are actually quite few and far between. With an abundance of Second World War material available, consisting mostly of pieces that tell the story of how america won the war single handedly, a World War One play as good as Journey's End should really be seen. Written by a man who fought there for three years himself you can't help but believe it. It is not a contrived piece that an english student sitting in a comfortable flat behind their apple mac has written, it is from a genuine vetran, a man who must have loved and lost in the trenches.

This production is superb, the OFS has been transformed and the performances are first rate. Edward Blagrove gives an outstanding performance as Captain Stanhope, a man living on the end of his nerves, a character that could so easily be over the top is made real, his moments of emotional pain send real shivers down the spine. Blagrove is not the only great performer here however. Emrys Matthews and Benjamin Watts also stand out as Raleigh and Hibbert respectfully. The reality is that there is not a weak link.

It is impossible for us to understand how it must have felt for those men, but I believe this play takes us that little bit closer.

Highly recommended.

T. Savell (Unverified), 14/08/07


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OFS Studio, 14-18 August 2007
I missed the recent London production of Journey's End, R.C. Sheriff's emotional play about life (and death) in the Trenches, So I was glad to have the oportunity to catch this new production by local Oxford based company, BMH Productions.This is not an easy play to watch - at times it's almost unearably sad - but the talented group of actors rose to the occasion and delivered a gut wrenching performance. I was expecially moved by Edward Blagrove's Stanhope, a man consumed from within by the horror and futility of the war; while Emrys Matthews delivered a deeply felt portrait of a boy's journey to manhood. A great evening. Highly recommended.

David Calder (Unverified), 14/08/07


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Journey's End, OFS Studio, June 2001

Journey's End is set in the rat-infested trenches just outside of St Quentin in March 1918. It is a compelling account of warfare, based upon R.C. Sherriff's own experience as a Captain in the East Surrey regiment, depicting war as meaningless and destructive. When in the trench you find yourself in limbo, talking about 'down' and 'up' the line as though they are factious places in one of Osborne's books. Without the gun blazes at the end of each scene, the erosion of No-Mans-Land as the German armies get closer and Trotter's game one would hardly expect that any time had past at all.

The audience is inducted into the Officers' dugout along with the enthusiastic newcomer Raleigh, and instantly becomes a part of the bustle. Raleigh, performed by Quintin Fraser, quickly looses his schoolboy keenness and adopts a mature weariness. Fraser conveys this transition well, branding his character with the respect of a hero. Juxtaposed is with him Hibbert, the most reluctant of men, also known as the 'worm'. Played by Roland Lloyd-Parry, Hibbert is introduced as the most reprehensible of characters, someone who betrays his fellow officers by wishing to be sent 'down the line'. An Officer must be able to hold romantic notions, be brave and able to push forward against all odds.

Stanhope - the handsome and courageous hero, respected by his fellow officers and men - is played admirably by Richard Godwin. Responsibility has made him tired and disillusioned with the war: he depends on whisky to forget anything but the present. Raleigh, his girlfriend's brother, upsets this balance between consciousness and oblivion. Stanhope's nature therefore varies between one of a mature, responsible leader and that of a schoolboy subjected to the war, making the best of the bad orders of a dithering Colonel. Osborne (Andrew Humpreys) acts as his close friend throughout these mood swings as one assumes he had a thousand times before, attaining the esteem of all the other characters who refer to him lightly as 'Uncle'. The characters of the corpulent, rather down to earth Trotter (Martin Hemmings) and inoffensive batboy Mason (Des Fitzgerald) introduce some light comic relief into the play. Trotter seems almost unaffected by the war, concentrating upon his daily routine of eating, standing on duty and writing letters home to his wife. The innocent Mason in the meantime endeavours against all the odds to prepare liveable quarters for the Officers, complete with imaginative cooking.

The dugout itself is a realistic construction that succeeds in fusing all of the characters together, making the most of the props used and yet remaining subtle and simplistic. Anyone who sees this play will be convinced by the battle that blazes through the dugout door, and the lingering odours of smoke and, on occasion, bacon draw the audience in even more. The use of faint amber lighting, candles, and faint traces of radiating sunshine give a confused sense of time and strengthen the appeal of the disillusioned characters.

The audience leaves the play not with nationalistic pride but with a weary uneasiness about war. This is a mature representation of trench warfare free from over dramatisation and a credit to the actors and crew involved. Captivating the audience, naturally intermingling with their surroundings and unconscientiously conversing about their lives the characters are unsurprisingly engaging. Those who are acquainted with Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder Goes Forth will be able to see why the play was parodied. I would encourage anyone to see Journey's End this week.

Victoria Marshall (Unverified), 05/06/01


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