Selsey’s fine homage to “Journey’s End”
Last evening I saw the very moving show, The End of the Journey, A promenade performance about WW1. It was staged in the same, small Pavilion Theatre in Selsey High Street where R C Sherriff took a keen interest in a late 1933 amateur production of his play, Journey’s End, the hugely successful and influential West End hit of 1929.
Sherriff had laboured on the play for some years, partly at his mother’s house in Selsey, and struggled to get it staged. The important things to say about the new Selsey show are that it is a fair celebration of Sherriff and his play. In particular, it is fair to Sherriff”s intimate knowledge of the war (he was a lieutenant in a front line regiment in the battle he depicts), and to his nuanced approach to the social and military issues which have dogged discussion of WW1 ever since. Sherriff’s is one of those voices – and there are many – which one has to take very seriously when one considers the sensibility of the men who served in the two world wars, and of their families too.
It happens that I am reading lots of memoirs and biographies of generals, privates, sergeants, and painters and composers of the two world wars (many of the young men in the first went on to be major figures in the second), and find them vastly interesting. They almost all contribute to the feeling that Black Adder is a very funny parody and absolutely useless, and deeply misleading, history. It is, indeed, more of a commentary on Oh What a Lovely War than on the actual war.
It happens also that I am big fan of Sherriff’s 1931 novel, A Fortnight in September, set in south London and Bognor Regis. It is a tale of social mobility and social change in the inter-war years – a period as often and as sadly misread as the Great War. The novel has the same pained, lively, interested, involved empathy which enriched Journey’s End. The novel would, by the way, make a great theme for a theatrical piece, along the lines of The End of the Journey.
I should say that the 2014 Selsey show is an excellent theatrical homage to the men and women who lived through the Great War. It isn’t primarily or mostly an exegesis of the Sherriff play or an account of Sherriff: I bet that is just as he would have liked it, and I’ll bet also he would have been thrilled by this show.