I first became aware of this production when it reached Broadway in 2007 (where, despite an all too brief run it picked up the Tony award for 'Best Revival Of A Play') and from then I wished I had seen this particular production. All good things come to those who wait and at the beginning of the year I was made aware of a new UK tour for which I quickly snapped up a ticket.
The play itself was a powerhouse of a production with the writing being both funny, dramatic and, in turns, sombre and emotional. Perhaps more than one would usually expect from a play set in a dugout during the first world war?
Surprisingly, the play moved at a swift pace belying its 2 hour 40 minutes running time. I was taken aback at how well the play flowed, and how quickly, whilst the action onstage was never rushed or drawn out.
The direction of David Grindley was pretty much flawless allowing the text to do most of the work whilst allowing moments of silence and off-stage action to punctuate proceedings.
Set and costume design were as authentic as I'd like to see, the former being especially claustrophobic, utilising only a small percentage of the vast stage where the lighting was rightly dim and gloomy, surely to some discomfort to patrons toward the rear of the auditorium.
Sound design was used to such great effect that when the final, off-stage, action begins the sound is all you need to complete the picture. Indeed the sound became so intense as to shake the theatre and actively involve the audience as part of the finale. Such theatrical flourishes are what help make this outstanding production such a great success. It pulls no punches and isn't twee with the subject matter at hand.
The final tableau which also serves as the curtain call is quite, subtly, stunning whilst also refraining from being quite so in-your-face.
The cast were outstanding with not a weak link amongst them. Glasgow was the premier venue for two of the lead actors who showed no sign of this fact; '"Uncle Osbourne' played by Simon Dutton was the reasoned centre of the piece played with such finesse by an actor who reminded me of a subtler, superior Simon Callow while Nick Hendrix as 'Stanhope' was as assured and at ease with the role as other, longer serving, cast members were with theirs. The 'Raleigh' of Graham Butler and 'Trotter' of Christian Patterson were excellent in bringing the school-boy naivety and hardened humour, respectively, to the production. Simon Harrison as 'Hibbert' also perfectly essayed the fear and panic such condition produced. As I've said the entire cast was outstanding and served perfectly. The whole experience was one in which the audience was part of the journey, drawn in on many levels and left in awe at the experiences endured (mostly off-stage, too) by those on the stage. It is credit to the entire production that the emotional whammy that the play delivers at its climax is as powerful as it is - in lesser hands it could have been melodramatic and clumsy.
I urge you, if you have the chance, to see this production which is an almost perfect theatrical experience and certainly one of the most powerful I've experienced.
I shall remember this production for many a year!
(Sadly no production pictures of the updated tour cast have been released so the pictures here show the original 2011 UK Tour/West End cast, all but two of whom continue with the tour.)
Here are some new production shots featuring the new touring cast: