A journey of majesty and stature
Captain Stanhope (Josh Crow, left) means business as he confronts Lt Hibbert (Chris Broadfield) in a tense moment after cowardice has come to the fore.
Swan Theatre Amateur Company
Swan Theatre, Worcester
IT took me a
little while to take Simon Atkins's splendid production on its own
terms. Having previously seen R C Sherriff's searing account of life in
the First World War trenches presented in a studio, I was aware that the
larger auditorium made me feel I was missing the claustrophobic
atmosphere that went with the smoke and the gunfire.
My reservations did not last for long. This is a
production of majesty and stature. It draws its audience into the
tensions, the fears, the bravery and the humour that are quite superbly
presented as the constituents of conflict in 1918. The sound and
lighting effects reach an almost awesome level. Indeed, at one point, we
are left for several minutes, looking at the deserted dugout while the
explosions and flashlights of war are given a field day.
Central to this microcosm of bloody conflict is
Captain Stanhope. He is the man in charge of this corner of lethal
mayhem; seemingly fearless but in fact as human and as crisis-ridden as
anybody; constantly going without sleep; looked upon as a sort of freak
by his fellows and showing unwavering support for the whisky bottle.
This is a tremendous performance by Josh Crow, who at one point is
frighteningly irrascible but who comes movingly to kindness beside the
deathbed of a friend and comrade.
His mood-swings have the perfect counterpoint in Keith Thompson, as Lt “Uncle” Osborne – a comfortable, brave, pipe-smoking man of seemingly unflappable equanimity whose anxiety nevertheless shows through in his conversation with Lt Raleigh – an excellent portrayal by Andrew Talbot – before the pair of them are due to make a 60-yard dash towards enemy lines in the hope of capturing a German soldier for interrogation.
This is a warm, very human account of a hero who
is free of histrionics – and that exchange before their suicidal run,
which finds them talking about anything except their immediate future or
lack of it, provides another memorable few minutes.
Chris Broadfield is excellent as the
panic-gripped officer who is made to confront his demons when
Stanhope promises to shoot him – a complete contrast to Alan Wollaston's
utterly equable Lt Trotter, who looks life in the eye and declines to be
disconcerted. Mark Danckert is the textbook Sergeant Major and John
Horton the splendidly upper-class Colonel.
No, it's not a barrel of laughs, though Ian Mason
conjures some lighter moments as the dugout's cook, always marching off
at an eye-watering speed that indicates that he belongs to the light
There is lots of smoke. There's an atmosphere
that envelops the observer. On the first night, the stylistic build-up
to the curtain-call was riveting – so much so, that there was a sort of
stunned silence before the eventual line-up of a talented company began
to receive the acclaim it so richly deserved.
Heart-stopping stuff, utterly fitting in Remembrance Week. To 13-11-10