A few years ago I had the privilege of performing in the R.C, Sheriff play, Journey’s End. Just an Am-Dram production of course, no-one has yet seen fit to offer me money in exchange of my flouncing about stage antics. But we worked hard and, I believe, we put on a good show. So good that we, in fact, won awards for the production. We staged it in November 2014. Opening night was the 11th, Remembrance Day. The Sunday before, Remembrance Sunday, of course, during rehearsal, we had stood for two minutes silence, in our uniforms, on the stage for two minutes silence. It was a distinctly eerie experience.
The play is good. Really good. It concerns a group of infantry officers on the front line in France, waiting for a German offensive. What sets this play apart, at least in my opinion, is the R C Sheriff was there. He served in the trenches and the experiences he portrays were real. At the opening night in 1928, men stood and applauded, men who would have been in the trenches, I can’t think of a much better validation.
So, why am I waffling on about a production from four years ago. Because yesterday I went down to my local art house cinema and watched a new film production of the play. (The Luxe Cinema, Wisbech, since you ask. A wonderful indie cinema, cheap tickets, great staff and in the process of being refitted, so it was the last time I would sit in my beloved seat B4.)
It was an interesting prospect and I was curious how I would react to it. I’ve seen many a film that has been adapted from books I have read. The adaption process always means such a lot of content has to be dumped from the novel. But with a stage play, well, it’s all already there isn’t it? And, because I had performed this, I was much more aware of the original script.
Paul Bettany, a very talented actor is playing ‘my’ role. Lt. Osbourne. An older officer, father-like, second in command to the young Captain Stanhope, who is slowly falling apart from the strains of duty. Osbourne was a delight to play. Difficult though, as he is a very calm, caring and a paternal wall for Stanhope to crash his feelings against. He only raises his voice once, but at the same time you have to communicate his own fear, the depth of his own emotions as he struggles to care for his fellow officers.
It took 30 seconds before I fell in love with Osbourne again. Just a handful of gestures; a lit pipe, a quiet word, a hand on a shoulder and Paul Bettany communicated that gentle authority immediately. There is apparently a good reason his P60 has more digits on it than mine.
I won’t give any spoilers, but it won’t come as any surprise that there is high drama and bloodshed. There was dialogue that I missed, but replacing it were lingering studies of characters faces, detail that you can’t achieve on stage and every performance was superb and authentic.
It’s not a date night movie, I’ll say that. There are laughs, mainly supplied by the NCO servant, Mason, played in a very low key, watchful way, by Toby Jones, but it won’t be tears of laughter shed. And yes, even though I knew stroke for stroke what would happen, I had a bit of a cry too.
One final note and an anecdote. There is a line that Osbourne has grey hair. As a perfectionist, I spent fours hours in a salon trying to dye my hair grey. The best we managed was a kind of dirty blonde. (Incidentally, an item from my Christmas list that year. ) I could have used Talc but with taking my helmet on and off I didn’t want my uniform covered in it. As I was paying, (literally, the notes were in my hand) a beautician commented that Dry Shampoo would work as well. If I just sprayed it on. And it bloody did. Took two months to grow the blonde out.
Needless to say, they cut the line from the film.
Who wears it best?
Just as a footnote, I will be back on stage this May, at the Angles Theatre, Wisbech in Ladies in Lavender. This time I’ve got to learn the violin and lose 25 years……spray on shampoo isn’t going to help us this time!