Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 21 – Nov 15, 2014
Playwright: R.C. Sherriff
Director: Will Usic
Cast: Andrew George, Will Usic, Yannick Lawry, Jack Douglas, Jeremy Bridie, Richard Cotter, Ian Bezzina, Jim Robison, Steve Tait
Image by Toby Zerna
Journey’s End was first performed in 1928, ten years after the end of World War I. Its playwright R.C. Sherriff based the play on his experiences as a British officer in the trenches, and what he had provided is a perspective that feels unusually personal and specific. Focus is moved from the big picture of ideology and territories, to looking at individual lives of those “boots on the ground” as they try to cope with persistent threat, danger and fear.
Will Usic’s work in directing actors is strong. He extracts thoughtful performances from the entire cast, and all are able to instil in their portrayals something that feels genuine and dignified. There are some issues with plot that indicate a need for the very long text to be edited, and while many character interchanges are dynamic and moving, several scenes of dialogue fail to ignite. Poetic license is required but not often utilised in the production. Sherriff’s writing is borne out of stiff upper lip England, so sentiment and passion are extremely restrained, and can make for uncomfortable viewing by today’s conventions.
Usic in the role of Osbourne is the stand out performance of the piece. He is palpably present, and sensitively conscious of conveying the very subtle emotional shifts that exist in those highly precarious situations of battle. His reactions to his comrade’s lines reveal as much as the words themselves do. Also engaging is Yannick Lawry’s humorous take on Trotter, who brings charming levity to the grave proceedings. Lawry pitches his character’s jolliness just right, so as to deliver comedy but also to retain the dark qualities of the narrative. Young Raleigh is played by Jack Douglas with excellent conviction, who maps out the part’s evolution beautifully and convincingly. Leading man Andrew George is believable as Captain Stanhope, with his effortlessly domineering stature, but there is a monotony to his depiction of the role’s depression that detracts from the dramatics of the production.
Set design (uncredited) is ambitious and effective. The stage is pleasantly transformed, and acting space is elegantly accommodated. Sound design (also uncredited) and Toby Knyvett’s lighting are under-explored in the first two acts, which adds to the aforementioned monotony, but both are intelligently conceived and executed thereafter to represent the horrific destruction of lives at war.
There is a delicate balance to be found when discussing the honour of people who serve in battle. Journey’s End does not glorify war, but it shows camaraderie at its deepest. The exaltation of those who have sacrificed can be worthwhile, but the condemnation of war must prevail.