The Return of the Soldier

Theatre, Fringe
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 (© Darren Bell)
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© Darren Bell

'The Return of the Soldier'

 (© Darren Bell)
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© Darren Bell

'The Return of the Soldier'

 (© Darren Bell)
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© Darren Bell

'The Return of the Soldier'

 (© Darren Bell)
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© Darren Bell

'The Return of the Soldier'

 (© Darren Bell)
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© Darren Bell

'The Return of the Soldier'

 (© Darren Bell)
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© Darren Bell

'The Return of the Soldier'

 (© Darren Bell)
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© Darren Bell

'The Return of the Soldier'

Rebecca West's debut novel about one man's traumatic return from WW1 is adapted into an overwrought musical.

How awful would it be if one day your partner or lover came home and couldn’t remember who you were? This new musical, adapted from the book by Rebecca West, is the story of a man who forgot.

In West’s story, upper-class army captain Christopher Baldry returns from WWI physically intact but missing the last eight years of his life. He’s in love. Not with his wife – whom he regards as a cold, manipulative stranger – but with the lower-class barmaid Margaret he had an affair with in his younger days. Where he should be happily reunited with his wife, he instead covets Margaret’s time and dotes on her. His love ignites a flame in Margaret that had burned low as her own loveless but affectionate marriage trundled on.

It’s a juicy premise and the plot is riveting and heartbreaking. But Tim Sanders and Charles Miller’s musical adaptation doesn’t really do it justice. The songs are accomplished and some stand out – ‘Am I What You Are to Me?’ sung by Laura Pitt-Pulford as Margaret is complex and beautiful and ‘This Is Not the Right Time’, which pitches husband (Stewart Clarke) and wife’s (Zoe Rainey) positions against one another, works well. But the show is overtly emotional from the beginning and the tone barely varies. It’s often cloying, and though the first half eventually settles down, the second half ratchets up the blubbing again.

The cast is strong, especially Pitt-Pulford, who has a formidable and commanding voice and brings grace and realism to a character that isn’t brilliantly drawn. But war often feels almost incidental in ‘The Return of the Soldier’, which only touches on the true horrors of combat in one or two songs. The piece plays out at such an overwrought intensity, it feels more like soap opera than human tragedy.

By: Daisy Bowie-Sell

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