JOURNEY’S END is one of the most poignant and haunting World War One dramas you’ll ever get to see. I defy anyone not to leave with a lump in the throat. It’s a five-tissue weepy about the terrible loss of a nation’s young men in the trenches of France and it gets me choked up with emotion every time I see it.
Now this outstanding award-winning production is back to tug at the heartstrings of audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre.
I had a preview when the touring production appeared at Wycombe’s Swan recently and the darkly atmospheric set immediately pitches you into the stench and gloom of war. The play is set in the British trenches at St Quentin in 1918, in the days leading up to Operation Michael on March 21st, the last great German Offensive of the First World War, a day that saw the deaths of 38,000 men. A company of officers prepare for a daring raid across No Man’s Land to gather intelligence.
Based on Sherriff’s own experience of the Front and life in the trenches, it celebrates humour and courage in the face of certain tragedy, and remains an important reminder of the horrors of war and the real, unromanticised heroes who fought it. At the time Britain sent boys to fight a man’s war and few made it back. Those from public school thought the whole thing a jolly adventure, eager to enlist and join the fray, until they saw first hand the grim realities of life in the trenches. Journey’s End is utterly absorbing. It shows the friendship and camaradie among both the officers and the regular Tommies. As the play enfolds, we see that, for the officers, life in the trenches is pretty much like being back at Eton. There’s a batman on duty to rustle up meals and serve Scotch from meagre rations in a makeshift mess while the young make do in therat-infested dugouts.
In command is Captain Stanhope, battle scarred but exceptional in his devotion to his men. He couldn’t be more different to the new man who appears in the foxhole. Second lieutenant Raleigh (Graham Butler) is so full of enthusiasm and innocence that it’s hearbreaking. Journey’s End runs at Milton Keynes Theatre from September 20 - 24. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes