Synopsis from Goodreads.
Sherriff’s play about life in the trenches in the First World War. This powerful play endures in the tradition of great drama because until wars are at an end, the human race will continue to question what our reaction should be to the cycle of killing and being killed in the name of foreign policy. Sherriff’s play creates real characters, some of whom deal better than others with the stresses of warfare in the trenches, the close proximity of the enemy and the pointlessness and inevitability of dying.
This review is going to be a quick one because it’s impossible to really go into depth without spoiling the story.
I don’t normally read plays because they seem to unleash a wave of high school-related memories and trying to think of quotes and line numbers and acts and basically getting myself into a tizzy.
But I love the theatre and I’ve wanted to read Journey’s End for a while now because I’ve heard it was beautiful and tragic. And they are my favourite adjectives when it comes to literature.
Journey’s End is an extremely claustrophobic play, set in the trenches in March 1918 as the war is drawing to a close. It tells the story of a group of officers and their commander over a course of three days. Apparently R.C Sherriff intended the play to be called ‘Suspense’ or ‘Waiting’ and, I have to say, they both would have been perfect titles for this.
This play was so tense.
And a lot of people may dismiss the scenes and the conversations as slow but I think that is the whole point and what makes the. In the films set around WW1 there is always something happening, shells exploding, machine guns hammering but in reality there was a lot of time where the men were just waiting.
Instead of writing a play that is about the combat, Sherriff chose to focus on the men and their feelings. The most striking part was that he could have chosen any group of soldiers on either side of No Man’s Land and still had the same play, the same feelings and the same message.
I loved the characters, each and every one of them feeling real to me. Complex Stanhope with his inner conflicts and extremely human fears, the dark humorous banter between Osborne and Mason, Hibbert and his terror, the ever changing relationship between Stanhope and the young Raleigh, the enthusiastic, optimistic officer who becomes more and more disillusioned when he begins the truth and sees what happens to men who are fighting.
I loved them all.
This play reminded me of the preface that Wilfred Owen wrote: “This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.”
And it’s so true.
The scenes between the men were extremely subtle and really drove home the complete and utter futility of it all. And I think it’s this subtlety that made the final scene all the more haunting.
Maybe I shouldn’t go and see this on stage… the public tears could be embarrassing.
This review is part of my Poppies & Prose feature. You can find out more here.