Review by Danny Gaisin
Beside the famous Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, there is a War museum the has a replica trench and dugout. Even those with no claustrophobic tendencies feel somewhat anxious or uncomfortable experiencing that part of the exhibit. Binbrook Little Theatre’s presentation of R.C. Sherriff’s 1928 blockbuster about 3½ days in a trench dugout is so well staged and performed that one may identify with the closeness imposed on the cast members. Under the realism directed by Aubrey Boothman who also has a cameo role, all the portrayed characters display the virtues; strengths, weaknesses and psyches of men under the duress of war. This is a pure gem of theatre.
The relationships; gallows humour; shell-Shock (PTSD); and demonstrable baptism of fire are are displayed with warts open and showcased. Boothman pulls no punches and neither do his players. Every individual from the unfeeling Colonel to the novice 2nd lieutenant fresh from military college. There is the supposedly heroic captain who needs alcohol to blunt his personal misgivings; the avuncular veteran, the grunt/cum cook and the beleaguered Sergeant Major on whose shoulders, traditionally carries out every officer’s orders. There is no overacting or hamminess nor is there any superfluous emphasis…psyches are almost understated which adds to the credibility and realism of the performances.
Joshua Fleming is the supposedly super-courageous Stanhope. A Military Cross recipient (see notes); he demonstrates radical personality changes and relies on booze for sustenance and support. Fleming has all the bearing and charisma of a leader and is a perfect cast choice for the role. His sideman ‘Lt. Osborne’ is Richard Wouthuis and the playwright underscores his role by having him nick-named “Uncle”. Woulthuis is supportive and discriminating in his admiration for his younger leader, but also must endure the barbs and diametric mood changes of his captain. An exceptional non-caricature is played by Brian Morton and his 2nd Lt. is both physically and emotionally bigger than life. Admittedly not enjoying the war, he thus has the most succinct lines and observations of the ‘War is Hell’ idiom that is expressed in the most professional manner.
There are moments of levity. The cook is Rick Kuipers and his omittance of seasonings, excuses for replacement of fruits or veggies and entree lack-of-descriptions elicit giggles from the audience…but not from his officers. The war-weary and demoralized lieutenant Hibbert is Derek Beattie. He hopes that feigned medical problems will get him sent home from the front or at least back to a hospital. The other officers, especially Fleming, see through his ruse, but Kuipers manages to come across as a sympathetic character rather than a despised coward. Finally, there is the neophyte. Thomas Saker may be only 14, but he already displays an uncanny ability to encompass his role. Hie portrayed enthusiasm for defending his country, especially under the leadership of his old school idol – Stanhope; and fearless demeanour are all quite believable. Then, his first experience with combat! The mature way that he can express this personal change belies his theatrical experience. Crystal ball tells me that he’s got a serious potential career on the stage.
The atmosphere and ambiance of Journey’s End would not be nearly so effective and all-consuming were it not for the dramatic contributions from both sound and especially lighting. The special effects bring such realism that some audience members may even cringe! The play is obviously not a ‘happy ending’ sit-com. But is is successful theatre and negates the concept that community theatre can’t compete with the professional ensembles. Journey’s End runs until Nov. 10th and methinks this is a sure-fire O.A.R. “Top Ten” candidate.
NOTE: The Military Cross was first awarded in 1918 WWI and is the third ranked medal (2 below the Victoria Cross). The American version is a DSC)