Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – until 29 September 2018
Guest reviewer: Megan Hyland
The Return of the Soldier is a melancholy musical adaptation of Rebecca West’s novel and tells the story of wounded soldier Christopher Baldry’s return home. Christopher is suffering from amnesia and in his confusion has reached out to former lover Margaret – much to his wife’s dismay. Drudging up unresolved feelings and creating distance in both their marriages, Margaret and Christopher explore their second chance at a lost love, but how long can their dream last?
Chris Jenkins stars as Christopher, delivering an emotionally charged performance. He is every bit the WW1 Captain, perfectly embodying his stoic character. Tessa Kadler stars alongside him as Kitty Baldry, his quick-tempered and dejected wife. She delivers a beautiful and moving solo, ‘No Man’s Land’, which shows a more vulnerable side to her high-strung character. Jenny Baldry, Christopher’s cousin and childhood best friend, is played by Esme Sears, who brings warmth and a touching gentleness to the role. However, her character’s direction in the plot is quite disappointing, as it feels as though Sears has a great deal more to offer than the role of Jenny allows.
Naomi Slights is Margaret Grey, delivering a series of truly stunning monologues and solos. Her smooth, soulful voice transports the audience into her character’s past relationship with Baldry, creating charming visuals that stretch beyond the simplistic set.
However, the show is well and truly stolen by Marc Pickering, who plays both William Grey and Dr Anderson. Pickering brings a distinctive vitality to his characters, breathing life into a comparatively static storyline. His touching solo as Mr Grey, ‘The Little Things I Need’, gained the first round of applause for his magnificent comedic timing and sincerity. He is a naturally funny and likeable performer, with his second solo, ‘Headmaster’, displaying an expert execution of choreography and humour. As Mr Grey, he generates the most sympathy, and as Dr Anderson, the most laughs.
Charles Miller’s music lends itself beautifully to the story, however it feels at times that some of the songs are too similar, each boasting the same melancholy melody. Despite this, Tim Sanders’ lyrics and Miller’s music couple wonderfully, creating a host of elegantly carried and touching songs. The stunning set, designed by Leah Sams, perfectly represents the divergent lives of Margaret and Christopher, while still containing subtle details that draw similarities between them – such as the Greys’ wallpaper featuring the same flowers present on the walls of the Baldrys’ garden.
Despite the brilliant efforts of the cast and production, it felt as though the story was almost too simplistic for the length of the play itself. While it opened with a promising beginning and closed with a touching ending, the story had a rather slow progression in between. Just when it seemed that it was building to a climax, it returned to its same slow steadiness, at times feeling as though the audience was simply bouncing between the two households.
Of course, not all musicals have to be bright and bold, it can certainly be just as effective to be subtle and sombre. It merely felt that a change of tone was perhaps needed at times, as it fell into a steady rhythm quite early on. However, The Return of the Soldier tells a touching story about the emotional turmoil that soldiers face, and the culture of repression that is still present in Britain today. Together, the cast has a striking chemistry and are faultless throughout, their singing voices creating some truly breath-taking harmonies. There is a rousing atmosphere created by Daniel Jarvis and Inés Mota, who play live, and overall The Return of the Soldier is a truly moving and meaningful performance.
The Return of the Soldier runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 29th September 2018.
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