Review: Journey’s End, Lyceum

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YOU leave the theatre with your ears ringing with the noise of a bombardment - but this is no anti-war play.

Instead director David Grindley’s magnificent revival of RC Sherriff’s classic World War One drama is a study of men under stress.

And, in a curious way, a celebration of Britishness, of true grit under fire.

Sherriff used his experience in the trenches to write this play, first staged in 1928, against odds almost as insuperable as those faced by his fictional C Company in France in 1918.

No one wanted to be reminded of the war, there was only one set and – the killer punch – it had no leading lady.

Yet it was a hit then and Grindley has made it a deserved hit again. It has aged in parts. Some dialogue teeters close to Blackadder but the sheer strength of the drama pulls it through. And it remains relevant in the light of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Be warned; it is exhausting. Designer Jonathan Fensom’s set, a dugout, is small, claustrophobic and dimly lit and Gregory Clarke’s sound effects are breathtaking. Grindley has used mostly young actors the ages of the characters they play. The whisky-soaked CO, Captain Stanhope (Nick Hendrix), just 21, can only cope with stress by drinking.

His 2-i-C Lt Osborne (Simon Dutton), twice his age, reads Alice in Wonderland to take his mind off things. Portly Trotter (Christian Patterson) does it by eating.

Into their midst comes idealistic young officer Raleigh (Graham Butler), who hero worshipped Stanhope at public school.

Sherriff makes clear his opinion of the conduct of the war. When Osborne is killed on a suicidal raid Stanhope says bitterly: “It’s awfully nice if the brigadier’s pleased.”

I won’t give away Grindley’s ending (different to Sherriff’s) but it’s emotional. And you might join some of the first night audience in giving it a standing ovation. Unmissable.

On until Saturday.

Martin Dawes