Set in 1918, in the British trenches of Saint-Quentin, Aisne, R.C. Sherriff's Journey’s End tells the story of commanding officers Captain Stanhope and Lieutenant Osborne, as they discuss the impending battle in the officers' dugout.
Robbins says that it is important to revisit this play now with the approach of the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
“We’ve had collaborative efforts with the WWI Museum in the past at Kansas City Actors Theatre," he says. "And we were really, really happy to be asked to come back and to be included in this very important year."
Interview Highlights: Director Mark Robbins
On friendships forged in wartime
Sherriff's play brings the experience of the individual soldier to the forefront of the drama.
“I realized that the most striking elements of the whole conflict, even though it was horrible,” says Robbins. “Even so, there were a lot of people who survived and came back who maintain that this was the one of the most significant events of their life.
"It was largely because of the camaraderie because of the friendships and the unity that they felt with the people they were fighting alongside. That sort of relationship rarely happens outside of a conflict like this and it had a very profound effect upon them. I think this play is R.C. Sherriff wrote this play about men that he served with and he drew directly from his experience of those men to make these characters, so it’s somewhat autobiographical in that way. But it’s a loving portrait and he’s honoring them, immortalizing them in this play.
“In this scene, Stanhope has just informed Osborne that he Brigadier that they were 99 percent certain that the big German attack was going to come two days from now. It was the one they;d been waiting for. They’d been hearing transports moving men up to the front line over who knows how many weeks. They are anticipating a big attack which they may or may not survive.”
On the humanity of the soldier's experience
It was the human element that drew Robbins to Journey’s End.
“It’s a really human play which is very attractive to me,” he says. “It’s not nationalistic. It’s not jingoistic. It’s not anti-war. It’s just a depiction of these humans living together and working together who chose to be there and they really feel that their purpose there is just."
Robbins says that he jumped at the chance to direct the WWI drama in this unique setting.
“Not only is this museum a wonderful resource, our dramaturg has been besides herself being able to use the museum for research,” he says. “Also, it is interesting, a couple days back we were in here rehearsing and there were some WWI re-enactors who were positioned out in the lobby. It was strange to be sitting basically around this dugout and to look up here and see this fully dressed 'Tommy' standing there.”
Kansas City Actors Theatre, UMKC Theatre and the National World War I Museum present Journey's End, February 14 to March 2, in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium, National World War I Museum, 100 W. 26th Street, Kansas City, Mo. 816-235-6222.
The In This Scene... series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.