Review: Black humour and stellar performances in wartime drama in Kenilworth

Strong cast and excellent direction: Journey's End. Picture: Peter Weston
Strong cast and excellent direction: Journey's End. Picture: Peter Weston

Charles Essex reviews Journey's End at the Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth

The play is set over four days in the officers’ dug-out in 1917. One felt the tension as the audience knew that it was unlikely that all would make it to November 1918. The officers while away boredom and often unspoken fear with black humour, irritations about getting apricots instead of pineapple, and the quality of what passed for food. The cook was a Shakespearean comic character and the butt of the officers’ sarcasm.

The strong cast and excellent direction conveyed the different ways of coping by the main characters. Genial avuncular Osborne (Colin Ritchie), a teacher in a former life, was the wise mature steadying influence contrasted with naïve enthusiastic Raleigh (Laurie Weston), who had arrived straight from public school to office status. Ben Wellicome made a welcome return as the shell shocked lieutenant Hibberd, tense to the point of hysteria, berated by his commanding officer and threatened with being shot for desertion and cowardice.

The play centred on the performance of David Crossfield as Captain Stanhope. He oscillated between a hard drinking, sleep deprived conscientious soldier, who superficially despised “cowards” like Hibberd, but revealed his own continuous fear, drowning it with whisky, and a man who was clearly deeply affected by the loss of his men and Osborne in particular as he sent them on a suicide mission. This was a stellar performance from David and rightly establishes him as a top level performer in local amateur dramatics.

The (mostly) off-stage smoke and sound effects evoked periods of worsening intense bombardment with an amazing climax and the set and costumes were a tribute to the backstage crew.

The centenary of the end of the Great War has inevitably seen the production of new and revived plays about the war. But if you are going to see one, make it this one.

* Journey's End runs until Saturday October 6. See www.talismantheatre.co.uk to book.