Reviewed by Donald Madgwick for The Croydon Advertiser
Although coming in 1928, ten years after the event, R.C.Sheriff’s gritty drama of life in the trenches was one of the most notable plays to come out of the First World War.
It is seldom performed nowadays, and when it is we have to make allowances for its dated attitudes and language. (One of the curtain lines is “I say!”) For all this, it still has power to stir us and reach our hearts.
Director Mike Brown also designed the set which, if rather too spick and span, admirably reflects the hand-to-mouth improvisation of trench warfare. The production is introduced by some stirring music by Peter Bird reflecting the pomp of imperial power.
The core of the drama is between the young officer Raleigh and Captain Stanhope, the hard-drinking commander who returns his hero-worship with undeserved scorn.
I must say that I think that it was a huge mistake to cast a female in the former role, even though Vanessa Hammick makes a brave stab at pretending to be an eager young subaltern.
As Stanhope, Luke Argles is too even of mood in the early stages, but shows his mettle following the death of his friend… The last act brings out the best in him, when he really begins to crack under the stress and strain.
Chris Argles is well cast as Osborne, known as Uncle, the pipe-smoking older man to whom everyone turns, the still point in a turning circle, British phlegm with a stiff upper lip.
Tim Young gives a comfortable, down-to-earth performance as Trotter, the officer drawn from the ranks, the joker in the pack. And Mark Taylor provides a leavening of humour as the officers’ cook Mason, somewhat stiff of manner but with the common touch.
Martin Smith plays the company coward Hibbert, a somewhat ambiguous role in that our attitude towards such types has undergone quite a change since the play was written. Are we supposed to sympathise with him or despise him? Take your pick.
Richard Lloyd is every inch the crisp, blimpish Colonel, a man who barks out his orders in the tones of one born and groomed to command, while John Mills as the Sergeant-Major shows us the other side of the coin.
The actors complement each other in defining the distinction between command in the officer class and in the non-coms.
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