Monday, 8 September 2014

Theatre review: The Return of the Soldier

Charles Miller and Tim Sanders' new chamber musical The Return of the Soldier is based on the 1918 novel by Rebecca West, an early literary response to the First World War and the physical and mental toll it took not only on the combatants but on the people left behind. Captain Christopher Baldry (Stewart Clarke) is sent home from the front with shell-shock, and he immediately sets about reconnecting with the woman he loves. Unfortunately this isn't his wife, but his holiday romance from a decade earlier. He's completely forgotten Kitty (Zoe Rainey,) his wife of seven years, and plans instead on proposing to Margaret (Laura Pitt-Pulford.) But she too has since got married, to the kind-hearted but sickly William (Michael Matus.) In an attempt to help cure his amnesia, Chris is allowed to meet with Margaret, but it turns out neither of them is ready to give the other up now they've found each other again.

Charlie Langham as Chris' cousin Jenny, the person who's known him the longest and is caught in the middle of the triangle, completes the small cast, and she lends a quiet desperation as she tries to find a way out of this that won't break everyone's heart.

Charlotte Westenra's production is restrained, which means things take a while to get going but once they do it becomes effortlessly moving. Pitt-Pulford is particularly good at mining the emotions as Margaret reflects on the grand romance she lost and the well-meaning but more mundane life she's ended up in instead. But Rainey also does very well to get some sympathy for the forgotten wife Kitty, whose response to her husband's illness is to go on the offensive against her socially inferior rival.

There's an anger in the story that betrays how close it is to the subject matter, Matus doubling as a doctor using the then-new techniques of psychiatry to help cure Chris' amnesia. But as Kitty urges him on, she fails to see that if her husband gets his memory back she might win him back from his ex, but she'll lose him again to the front - perhaps for good this time.

Miller and Sanders' songs are simple but effective and feature a few really well put-together harmonies, done justice by the cast with vocals that are powerful but, in keeping with everything else about the show, understated. In the intimate surroundings of the Jermyn Street Theatre this is an involving, personal story that should find a lot of fans.

The Return of the Soldier by Charles Miller and Tim Sanders, based on the novel by Rebecca West, is booking until the 20th of September at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

1 comment:

  1. It was actually rather good, wasn't it? Your review is much better written than mine, though!