The Return of The Solider is a new musical by Charles Miller and Tim Sanders set amid World War 1. The show was adapted from Dame Rebecca West’s novel of the same name and in some ways I think it really ought to have remained as such…
In the centenary year since the outbreak of the “Great War” it is wonderful to see so many productions referencing what was undeniably one of the worlds biggest tragic events, so kudos to the creative team behind the show for staging brave slice of history.
There is no denying that this show has a very, very strong and talented cast. Just 5 actors sing their socks off for two hours and tackle some gritty issues. For instance Laura Pitt-Pilford and Zoë Rainey were fantastic as the leading ladies caught amid a love triangle; their contrasting temperaments and tempo rhythms were a delight to watch. Similarly there is no denying that Michael Matus, Stewart Clarke and Charlie Langham are accomplished performers.
Despite the lustre of the cast (usually a maker or breaker for theatre with me) there were a few issues that stunted my total enjoyment of the show. The main problem was that the levels of emotion and tension were pretty constant from beginning to end; it started pretty overwrought and remained so and to me variation is the theatrical key. It would have been nice to see real moments of tenderness that were not blacked by an overall sense of blind panic, especially between characters in Margret’s exchanges with Christopher and William.
I loathed the double casting of Matus as concerned husband William and smug Dr Anderson; as this piece was delivered by and large naturalistically, to me this seemed out of place and completely removed my belief in the piece. Matus was fantastic as William Grey and there was plenty of scope for both the character of William and of Dr Anderson to be explored fully by separate actors. Surely tight budgets can’t have prevailed over theatrical integrity?!
This sounds like radical and somewhat crazy criticism of a musical but for me the musical numbers hindered the dramatic flow of the piece and to me songs felt somewhat shoehorned. Just as dramatic dialogue was beginning to be built in scenes, we were slapped with another “sung dramatically with wide eyes to the audience” musical number, which for me did nothing to encourage me to emotionally connect. Just a few songs stood out to me and, whilst the orchestration was nice, I felt like a good few could have been cut without any detriment to the story-line.
I am not sure whether it is West’s text or Sander’s stage adaption coupled with Charlotte Westenra’s directorial approach, but I abhorred how badly treated forgotten wife Kitty was in the piece. Kitty (who FYI her husband left to serve the war, got injured, forgot her and fell back in love with an EX!) is treated like a total irredeemable bitch. Who wouldn’t be a bit sassy to their husband’s ex girlfriend, especially one who is taking advantage of his amnesia! It would have been nice to have had a moment of pure tenderness with this character…I mean she was even a stony hate filled villain when discussing her dead child! Seriously!
Issues aside, the piece looks nice (thanks to Simon Anthony Wells designs) and as I said, the show has a really great talented troupe of performers behind it. Ultimately, however, I feel West’s novel is too complex and emotional to be trivialised in the form of a musical, where outbursts of songs break any real moments of tension in the action. That said, maybe I am just a cynic? Hmm.
The Last Soldier runs at the Jermyn Street Theate until the 20th September.