Today is the day where we remember those that fell during the First World War, apparently the war to end all wars, if only that were the case.
In tragedy it seems, art flourishes, and there have been many great pieces to come out of wars in general. Some electrifying works of art for instance; some heart-wrenching poetry and some powerful plays.
Most notable of these for me is the play Journey’s End, written by ex-soldier R.C. Sherriff. It is a deeply harrowing play apparently based on his experiences in the trenches of the Great War and tells of a young officer who joins the front line to be confronted by Captain Stanhope, a young man battered by the evils of war. The play follows their relationship as the young officer, an eager and keen man who wants to please his superiors, and who also has previous knowledge of Stanhope during their lives black in Britain, comes to terms with the changes to his hero and the psychological and physical damage that has happened to the captain.
Journey’s End was originally performed in London with Laurence Olivier in the main role as Captain Stanhope. It was such a success that it was quickly transferred to the West End and helped Olivier along on his way to theatre and movie stardom.
The play is in three acts, and has some able support in the form of the Lieutenant , the cook, and other officers. It is not all doom and gloom, although there are some very powerful scenes, light relief is offered by the cook and by the portly officer, Trotter and Mason respectively.
I have been lucky to appear in a production of this play in 2008 at The Oast Theatre in Tonbridge, where I played the captain. It was a brave and wonderful production, with a brutally honest ending that brought tears to the eyes of the audience.
The play was also turned into a film starring Malcolm McDowell as the Captain, now a Major, and the action being relocated from the trenches of Northern France to the airfields. Aces High had a mixed reception when it was released and continues to split audiences, some of whom find it a little twee, and some critics calling it standard fare; although the aerial photography did get much praise.
The play has much going for it, and stands the test of time. It is fitting that this should be remembered on a day like today, when we should all remember those that fell at the Somme and at the various brutal battles that took place during the Great War.