It's a welcome novelty to see the Hippodrome packed for the rare visit of a straight play, albeit only for a split week.
RC Sherriff's First World War play became an instant British theatre classic in 1929 and David Grindley's revival has taken on a classic status of its own with a lengthy London run and an epic tour which has passed through the West Midlands twice before - the Post previously reviewed it at Malvern in October.
Since then Philip Franks has been replaced by John Elmes in the role of Osborne, the kindly schoolmaster turned lieutenant. I didn't see Franks's performance but it is very difficult to see how Elmes's could be bettered.
The achievement of Grindley's production is to banish utterly the once-conventional view that Sherriff's play is somehow fatally dated. It has survived the era when we squirmed at the very notion of a war
commanded by naive ruggerplaying public schoolboys, and come through the other side.
Sherriff himself experienced this strange troglodyte dug-out existence of boredom and physical deprivation alternating with moments of apalling physical danger, and the play has the texture of living history with its detail of trench routine and its picture of the British class system at its most stripped-down. At the end you get just the slightest sense of what a major bombardment like that which unleashed the German offensive in 1918 might have been like.
In the central role of Stanhope, the commanding officer fast becoming an alcoholic wreck, Tom Wisdom is a little inclined to gabble so that some of his lines are hard to catch - the Hippodrome's are probably not the friendliest acoustics. But he certainly conveys the sense of a very young man made old by extreme experience.
* Running time: Two hours 40 minutes. Last performance tonight.