Wednesday, 21 February 2018


Out now is a new film about the First World War – Journey's End, but did you know it was originally a stage play written 90 years ago? 

I've dug out two interesting items from the ArtPix Archives to show you.

Written by R.C. Sherriff in 1928, the play centres around a small group of officers in a dug-out in St Quentin on the Western Front in 1918. It captures the differing experiences and levels of stress affecting the officers as the weight of war envelopes them.
Set over 4 days in March of 1918, as they prepare for another senseless attack, it was just before the Germans' Spring Offensive which nearly won them the war.

The first time the play was staged was at the Apollo Theatre in London on December 9th, 1928.

I've got this small book with the entire script, dated to October 1929.

It lists the cast of the first production. The lead character of Captain Stanhope was played by Laurence Olivier, who was only 21 at the time.
It was produced by James Whale, who found international fame when he directed the classic Frankenstein film in 1931.

Reading through the script is amazing, as you get the sense of the different emotions of the war weary characters. 
This is very much a play written from personal knowledge, as the writer based it on his own experiences as an officer in the trenches, he himself was badly wounded at Passchendaele in 1917.
Incidently, Sherriff would later find even more success as a script writer for cinema, chiefly on Goodbye, Mr Chips and legendary war movie The Dam Busters.

I've also got a theatre programme of Journey's End from October 7th, 1929, when the play was on at the Prince of Wales' Theatre in London.

These programmes were essentially a magazine, with small features about the play on at the theatre at that time. There are a couple of pictures, the cast list and the scene settings of the play though.

The cast has mostly remained the same, although Colin Clive has replaced Olivier as Captain Stanhope. 

A closer look at the scene page reveals an interesting list of credits as to who supplied what for the play, including 'Wigs by Clarkson' and 'Pencils by Waterman'!
There is also a long list of the music played throughout, with soldiers' favourite, Mademoiselle of Armentieres amongst them.

The play has been revived several times over the years, variously on stage, radio, television and film. 
I went to see a stage production in 2004 at the Comedy Theatre in London's West End and was blown away by it.
I've yet to see the new film, but I hope it remains true to the original script by R.C. Sherriff.

No comments:

Post a Comment