by R C Sherriff.
The Original Theatre Company, Icarus Theatre Collective and Anvil Arts in association with South Hill Park Arts Centre Tour to 1 May 2010.
Runs Time 2hr 35min One interval.
Review: Mark Courtice 26 January at The Haymarket Basingstoke.
Still packing a punch.
R C Sherriff’s First World War drama about a small group of soldiers waiting for the big German push is always relevant, as we continue to send young men to die on our behalf. Despite being slightly formulaic in the mix of characters – here we have public school types, a louche coward and a salt-of-the-earth officer risen from the ranks – it still packs a punch; the accents and expressions may be period, the emotional power is timeless.
Here the actors do the piece the compliment of playing it with a straight bat. The old fashioned slang, and the old fashioned attitudes that go with it are given a chance to work on their own terms.
In this production, it’s the older characters that take the acting honours. Graham Seed’s Osborne is excellent as he forms a contrast with the youngsters, with a moving, measured and thoughtful performance – his scene with Tom Hackney as the young Raleigh while they prepare for a suicidally dangerous sortie is very well done. And Knight Mantell gets a nicely queasy equivocation into the colonel who retreats into bombast when he has to pass on orders, knowing how mad they are.
The young men suffer from all having voices in just the same register, so their climactic confrontations are hard to make sense of. Christopher Harper‘s Stanhope gets the terrible tension of a young man carrying his responsibility heavily, but with everything just this side of hysteria it’s difficult to discern the hero that everyone loves so much.
It’s all set in a trench, a claustrophobic, temporary sanctuary from a mad world outside, which at the end collapses – its safety exposed as another illusion. Victoria Spearing’s set is rather too neat, the space too open to work completely. Otherwise this is a production that effectively anatomises the inevitable march to disaster, marching to the drumbeat sound of gunfire. It is, however, careless with detail. Soldiers, for instance, mind about their uniforms, so actors playing them should at least know how to put a belt on.
Mason: Adam Best.
Trotter: Gareth Davies.
Raleigh: Tom Hackney.
Stanhope: Christopher Harper.
Sergeant Major: Zac Holton.
Hibbert: Rhys King.
German Soldier: Hubert Mainwaring-Burton.
Colonel: Knight Mantell.
Osborne: Graham Seed.
Hardy: Alastair Whatley.
Director: Alastair Whatley.
Designer: Victoria Spearing
Lighting: Alan Valentine.
Sound: Dominic Bilkey.
Costume: Fiona Davis.