by R C Sherriff.
Duke of York’s Theatre 45 St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4BG To 3 September 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7627.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 July.
Dramatic war-horse perfectly realised.
This is mainly a play about young men. R C Sherriff’s main figure, Dennis Stanhope went to the trenches at 18. After three years he commands troops on determination, nerves and whisky. David Grindley, whose long-serving production has grown even better, understands this. James Norton makes no imposing entry after the build-up about Stanhope, but rushes on in an angry blur.
Yet the man who can shout at his most trusted comrade, his nerves stretched to near-breaking, as his tired physique and attenuated voice repeatedly makes clear, is an evident leader, bringing sympathy as well as fury to a nerve-shattered officer, or speaking respectfully to a sergeant major; it’s the authority Shakespeare gave his Henry V.
Yet he explodes furiously over details; Stanhope realises that when order breaks down in little things greater problems will arise. Only Trotter bemuses him; the officer-class Stanhope understands, and the working-class soldier, but not the working-class officer of Christian Patterson’s gluttonously cheery portrayal.
His biggest test is the arrival of his girl’s brother. Anger and anguish express Stanhope’s fear that her pre-war image of him will be broken by reports of the way he now sees himself.
Others think differently. His older second-in-command Osborne grits his teeth when a lesser captain criticises Stanhope; Dominic Mafham’s interruptions make clear he doesn’t want to hear Hardy’s comments, though Tim Chipping’s terse, speedy speech shows fear underlying his words. The sense keeps recurring that these people aren’t always talking about what they’re talking about.
Mafham’s perfect as the reflective Osborne; the scene where he and newcomer Raleigh fill minutes before a raid with quiet talk provides an insight into the psychology of survival. And Graham Butler charts Raleigh’s transition from blithe innocence to head-hanging surprise, then palpitating terror.
Grindley’s production has a seamless sense of the routine operations of a dugout. Everything makes its point – from the puzzled youthfulness of the soldier on the programme-cover to the music: evocations of pastoral Edwardian England before rumbling guns start the action, changing to soldier-songs at the interval. And the ‘curtain-call’: a silent, dignified, overwhelming conclusion to a shattering evening.
Captain Hardy/Sergeant Major: Tim Chipping.
Lieutenant Osborne: Dominic Mafham.
Private Mason: Tony Turner.
2nd Lieutenant Raleigh: Graham Butler.
Captain Stanhope: James Norton.
2nd Lieutenant Trotter: Christian Patterson.
Private Albert Brown/A Private: Daniel Hanna.
2nd Lieutenant Hibbert: Simon Harrison.
Colonel: Nigel Hastings.
German Soldier: Andy Daniel.
Lance Corporal Broughton: Mike Hayley/Christopher Knott.
Director: David Grindley.
Designer: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Fight director: Terry King.
Associate director: Oliver Baird.