the death of the last surviving veterans a few years back, the so-called Great
War of 1914-18 slipped from living memory, but some records remain preserved
none-the-less, not least in R C Sherriff’s 1928 play
It is credit to director Lorna Rose Treen that the cast take on their characters and convey the tensions so convincingly: the respect of the men for their officers, personal terrors hidden in alcohol or feigned illness, the rapid fading away of normality and the distance, both physical and emotional of those at the top of the chain of command.
The play opens to songs which are now more familiar as Second World War anthems—reminding the audience that popular tunes were recycled for the next generation of patriots—and a man seen drying a sock over a candle, an efficient way to illustrate the appalling lack of facilities in the trenches. He is on his way out, but the replacements arriving bring with them a surprise for the troupe’s troubled leader Captan Stanhope, played by Ben Schofield with the quiet intensity of a praying mantis before it leaps on its prey—making his character’s subsequent outbursts all the more shocking.
The “surprise” is Stanhope’s younger schoolmate and friend, Second Lieutenant Raleigh (a suitably fresh-faced, puppy-enthusiastic Tom Trower), recent school leaver, hero-worshipper and brother of the woman Stanhope loves. Stanhope’s awkward response to Raleigh opens a Pandora’s box of complex male relationships within the context of war, against a backdrop of fearful adventure, of sporting chances and the finely tuned, complicated nuances of the class system.
Ross Baillie’s Lieutenant Osbourne brings familiar house-master-type comfort to the younger men, deserving particular praise for his portrayal—an immersed and believable character. Alex Andrassy’s Mason brought some much needed comic relief as the Baldrick-esque cook. (Arguably, it’s more true to say Blackadder’s Baldrick is very Mason-like.) It is credit to director Lorna Rose Treen that the cast take on their characters and convey the tensions so convincingly: the respect of the men for their officers, personal terrors hidden in alcohol or feigned illness, the rapid fading away of normality and the distance, both physical and emotional of those at the top of the chain of command.
The subsequent post-production discussion was interesting on the evening of the review, not least because most of the audience was of comparable age to the characters portrayed on stage.
This is a passionate and expertly delivered production of a near-century-old text, relevant and nonjudgemental in its portrayal of the futility of the situation and so very worthy of a much bigger, and perhaps much warmer theatre.