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October 7, 2018 / basabbott

The Return of the Soldier


The Return of the Soldier
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

A musical adaptation of Rebecca West’s novel is a welcome addition to the end of WW1 commemorations.
To the upper-middle class the Front was a distant, gallant place where Officers fought for England.
Lower ranks could be shot for having ‘shell shock’; but Captain Chris Baldry returns with his mind affixed on a former love.
She being also an ex-barmaid, this is not well received by his wife and female cousin. So the set shows white garden furniture and parasols on one side; and a humbler dwelling on the other.
The time span between his youthful romance and the present has been reduced from 15 (in the novel) to 10 years.
So Margaret, his old flame, is not so much the dowdy middle-aged woman, who turns up with a letter informing her, rather than the wife, of his condition.
She is younger and more attractive; and her character and that of her non-combatant husband, are built up more than in the book, which is narrated by the cousin.
There are many good songs, with book and lyrics by Tim Sanders and music by Charles Miller. They are sung supremely well by the cast, accompanied by Daniel Jarvis (piano) and Ines Mota (cello).
The Freudian resolution still comes over as rather glib, although the author was one of the first even to consider its possibilities, when soldiers were being executed for ‘cowardice’.
Chris Jenkins, as the stressed Officer, Tessa Kadler as his hoity-toity wife, Esme Sears as the cousin, and Naomi Slights, as the former love, all give quality performances.
Marc Pickering creates a rounded character as the husband with concerns about his non-participation in the war. Then he tops it with a slick, droll turn as a psychiatric doctor.
You miss some of Rebecca West’s prose – the description of a garden in March, the beloved’s figure in the dusk – but this is a memorable show, directed by Charlotte Westenra.

Basil Abbott

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