CHRISTOPHER SMITH The Assembly House, Norwich
The Assembly House, Norwich
Would it work in an arena performance? This was the question at the start of David Hare's production of Journey's End - a 1928 classic portrayal of the pressures on the officers of an infantry company waiting for a German attack towards the end of the Great War.
This is a play set wholly in a dug-out.
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Leaving it means emerging into a world where death can come at any moment. Human beings are caught like rats in a trap.
Now could their sense of claustrophobia be caught on an open stage, with the
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audience sitting on all four sides?
The answer was “Yes”. Though there was not a lot of detail except for the uniforms and the awful rations, the psychological passions went up to bursting point while the audience had the uncomfortable sense of eavesdropping on personalities that were always revealing more of their inner depth than they really wanted to.
Gareth Stewardson is a hero whose feet are turning to clay, with a touch of the bully in him as he tries to deny what is happening. David Ivins is the embodiment of kindly experience, in contrast to the callow youth of Tom Hopkins. Kevin Oelrichs is the colonel, with a stiff manner though not perhaps a stiff upper lip, while Robin Saunders adds a touch of humour as the indomitable mess orderly.
On occasion, contrivance and melodrama belong a little too much to a period in drama that is past, and some of the language - funk, awfully decent and Boches - seems very mannered nowadays.
But the insights that come across are convincing and the play still presents a persuasive picture of war and the horrors of war, with wounds that are no less grievous when they are psychological.