Romanticism and cynicism of life on the Western Front from the Rossendale Players

Journey's End
Journey's End

Living alongside death on the Western Front and the varying ways in which British officers dealt with it during the First World War is the focus of the Rossendale Players latest production.

"Journey's End", the insightful drama by R.C. Sherriff set in a claustrophobic officers' dug-out towards the end of the First World War, focuses on the captains and lieutenants drawn from the middle and upper classes of the late Edwardian era, who found themselves thrust from a comfortable life back home into the death and destruction of the front line of Flanders during that awful conflict.

Much has been made in the years since of the 'lions led by donkeys' idea of the brave British Tommy sent to his death by upper class generals sitting miles behind the front line in comfortable chateaus, which while often true, also ignores the huge contribution and sacrifice of the many captains and lieutenants in the officer corps who faced death alongside the lower ranks at the front.

Thrown together in the trenches young officers from the middle and upper classes found themselves living cheek by jowl with the mill workers of England's industrial heartlands in a way that peacetime life would never have allowed.

Nowhere better was this social dynamic portrayed than in the tragi-comic television series Blackadder Goes Forth.

Journey's End, sadly, only touches the surface of these new relationships, focusing instead on the officers, particularly young but already world-weary Captain Stanhope, played admirably by Daniel Starkie.

Stanhope's relationship with a younger school and family chum Raleigh, portrayed with great sensitivity by William Gedling, captures the cynicism and romanticism that the war elicited in those young men caught up in it.

Raleigh's fresh-faced idealistic view of war as an adventure, which many first-time soldiers felt, is contrasted sharply by the character of Stanhope whose three years at the front have left him with mental scars and a dependency on drink.

Another character to feature heavily in the play is that of the respected older officer of Osborne. Noah Burd plays the father figure in a wonderfully calm under-stated way, whoch contrasts well with the lively, more comic character of Trotter, taken on with great relish by David West.

As I said earlier, the only shame in Sherriff's play is that it only scratches the surface of the relationships forged between the lower and officer ranks in the trenches. The character of Mason, batman to the aforementioned officers, is the only real nod to this.

Played with a laconic, downbeat manner perectly by Joe Clegg, Mason utters the word 'sir' a grand total of 114 times throughout the play, but we never get to discover his feelings about the situation the soldiers find themselves in.

Ben Maguire, as blase officer Hardy, Ben McCarhty as the broken Hibbert, join Andrew Pettigrew's no-nonsense sergeant-major and Gary Kennedy's colonel, caught in a metaphorical no man's land of life-changing decisions, rounds off an impressive ensemble cast.

As always with the Players, the claustrophobic setting of the dugout and the clever use of sound effects and lighting, is spot on in this production.

Director Ben Ventress, alongside producer Christine Durkin, has guided the superb cast in what must have been a very challenging performance.

Journey's End is currently showing at the New Millennium Theatre, Burnley Road East, Waterfoot, until Saturday, September 28th.

All tickets £9 available from ticket secretary 07922 021505 and from watts news next door to the theatre.