Sherriff had trouble getting Journey's End produced in the West End, writing that "Every management in London had turned the play down. They said people didn't want war plays [...] 'How can I put on a play with no leading lady?' one [theatre manager] had asked complainingly." Sherriff used No Leading Lady as the title of his autobiography, published in 1968.
Geoffrey Dearmer of the Incorporated Stage Society suggested that Sherriff send the script to George Bernard Shaw, because a good word from him would convince the ISS committee to stage it. Shaw replied that, like other sketches of trench life, it was a "useful [corrective] to the romantic conception of war", and that "As a 'slice of life' – horribly abnormal life – I should say let it be performed by all means".
Journey's End opened as a semi-staged production running for two nights at the Apollo Theatre. It starred Laurence Olivier, then only 21, offered the role of Stanhope by the then equally unknown director James Whale. Under a new producer, Maurice Browne, the play soon transferred to the Savoy Theatre where it ran for three weeks starting on 21 January 1929. The entire cast from the Apollo reprised their roles (George Zucco playing Osborne and Maurice Evans Raleigh) except for Olivier, who had secured another role and was replaced by Colin Clive as Stanhope. The play then transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre, where it ran for the next two years.
Whale travelled to the United States to direct the Broadway production in 1930 at Henry Miller's Theatre. Colin Keith-Johnston played Stanhope, and Leon Quartermaine Osborne. By late 1929 the work was played by 14 companies in English and 17 in other languages, in London, New York, Paris (in English), Stockholm, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Madrid, and Budapest, and in Canada, Australia, and South Africa. The first revival of the work was in 1934, with Horne, Stoker and Smith reprising their original roles, and Reginald Tate as Stanhope. The first New York revival was in 1939, with Keith-Johnston again playing Stanhope. There were further London revivals in 1950 (which won enthusiastic praise from Field Marshal Montgomery) and 1972.
In 2004, the play was again revived in London, directed by David Grindley. From its initial twelve-week season at the Comedy Theatre from January 2004, it transferred to the Playhouse Theatre and the Duke of York's Theatre, finally closing on 18 February 2005. A touring company took the same production to over 30 venues across Britain in 2004 and 2005 and back to London, to the New Ambassadors Theatre from September 2005 to January 2006. Grindley's production received its Broadway debut in 2007. Starring Hugh Dancy, Boyd Gaines, Jefferson Mays and Stark Sands, it opened in New York at the Belasco Theatre on 22 February 2007 and closed on 10 June after 125 performances. Grindley's production was revived in 2011 for a UK tour from March to June, and transferred to the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End from July to September. The Sell A Door Theatre Company ran this play at the Greenwich Theatre until 17 February 2013. During 2014 it was presented at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton; directed by David Thacker, it featured David Birrell, Richard Graham and, as Stanhope, James Dutton.
2011 tour and West End revival
In the second part of the 2011 tour, after the West End run, Nick Hendrix took over the role of Stanhope and Simon Dutton the role of Osborne.