Directed by Samantha Young
Cross Pollinate Productions
Pier 4/5 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Season: 12-22 October
The scale and severity of the ‘Great’ War, grimly repeated in WWII, tore a global gash through modern history. In R.C. Sherriff’s play, we see the abhorrent process of sending boys off to war, either to their deaths or to be forever tainted by their experiences on the front. He is able to give good account for this experience, as he wrote the play soon after returning from the war himself. Cross Pollinate Productions is staging the play, some one hundred years after the events unfolded, under Samantha Young’s keen directorial hand.
This production of Journey’s End is awash with wonderful performances and it is a joy to watch the colourful characters thrust into war together and see them make do, with limited rations, crummy whisky, and the rumbling background noise of incessant warfare. We get to see ‘mateship’ at its prime. Production design by Isabel Hudson is brilliant, assailing the difficult task of recreating a realistic wartime bunker. In the audience, you feel up close and personal to the action on the thrust stage. Aaron Tsindos brings a natural comedic touch into the work that allows for light relief even when the play’s circumstances take a turn for the worse. Sam O’Sullivan is a joy to watch, as he listens well to the other actors in his scenes and is deeply grounded in his character. Jack Crumlin possesses a brooding strength, without giving a one-note performance, instead encompassing complexity as a tainted alcoholic soldier. Alex Chalwell affects the audience well with his drastic shift of character – perhaps the script’s trope of ‘naïve soldier is confronted with the reality of war’ is a little predictable, however with Young’s direction and Chalwell’s performance, it still packs a punch.
Without diminishing the historical significance of WWI and soldiers’ entitlement to have their stories told, Sherriff’s play is a western-centric tale about white British men, and I grow weary of seeing similar stories touching on similar themes, when it is a narrative that so many people are excluded from. There is no place for women in this story, and no place for people of colour. However, I do commend Sherriff’s writing for refusing to demonise the Germans and recognise the common humanity of people in the fight.
Young’s production traverses the rugged plane of being thought-provoking, amusing, bewildering and desperately saddening. By bringing people from history to life through theatre, it improves our ability to empathise and prevents us from forgetting the patterns of the past. Of course, this is an important story, but with modern history splattered with a myriad of fascinating and tragic events, some variation of perspective on the stage is always welcome.