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Review of Journey's End by Masque Theatre at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

While you often feel you should be sitting admiring R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End, rather than enjoying it, you simply can't help it at times. For so much of the play, especially in the first half, it is rife with so much humour that you find yourself laughing at this group of men, who despite potentially being moments from death, are living life through companionship and laughter. Most of the comedy rather interestingly comes from the trials of food and drink and the often ineffectiveness of Mason the cook (Kevin Pinks).

Set in the trenches in early 1918, Sherriff's play centres around a company of men commanded by Stanhope (Tristan Smith) and the gradual build-up to the battle at St. Quentin. It is a stark believable world, which comes as no surprise as the writer saw service himself in the East Surrey Regiment.

As is often the case with Masque Theatre productions, this has a very strong cast. Tristan Smith is a cold, quietly brooding Stanhope, at times seemingly more concerned about what his company thinks of him and his alcoholic state than any potential danger over the top. His chief concern is in the arrival Raleigh (Davin Eadie), whom he knew from school, and has another more personal connection with. Davin gives as always an assured performance, full of the eagerness of a new recruit, not yet showing the scares of battle than have ravaged the rest of the company. Completing what could be considered the main trio of characters, is Martin Williams as the older, and clearly haunted Osborne. As always Martin gives a superb performance, clearly defining the jolliness of the play in the first act and the fearfulness of what is to come in the second act.

The rest of the cast help to complete a good package, with Alistair Way a comical Trotter, generally more troubled by the quality of his next meal and when it is due, rather than the battles taking place beyond. The food talk links to perhaps the most surprising performance of the play, that of Kevin Pinks and his cook Mason. While always a solid stalwart of many a Masque show, those I have seen previously have not been as successful as his turn here. Deadpanning superbly every moment of food trifles occurring, he creates with the help of the rest of the cast, a very impressive amount of comedy in what could be a bleak drama in reality.

The set, as always from Mark Mortimer, successfully transplants a little bit of war torn Europe to The Playhouse stage, and it is nicely dressed to make it again an impressive backdrop. Debut director Ste Applegate also shows a confident first turn in the chair, creating a flowing piece of drama, and confident enough to take on a couple of smaller roles of Hardy and a German soldier into the bargain.

So, Masque Theatre once again brings solid drama to the Northampton audience with a quality production of a stirring and surprisingly comic war drama. Really enjoyable, if that word perhaps could be used for such a play?

Performance reviewed: Friday 17th February, 2017 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.

Journey's End ran between Tuesday 14th and Saturday 18th February, 2017 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.

Details can be found at http://www.masquetheatre.co.uk/



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