“An exploration of home and the self, and what happens when you lose the sense of either”
The meeting of Anna Jordan‘s words and Frantic Assembly‘s movement sparks potent potential. In the anxiety-logged poem that is The Unreturning, Jordan’s empathic character studies are subtly underpinned by Frantic’s earthy choreography.
The piece is split into three strands that skim three distinct time periods – the backdrops of three young British men. We meet a former WWI soldier suffering from PTSD, a current-decade soldier who has been stationed in Afghanistan and an English refugee who has escaped to safety in Norway after an unnamed future catastrophe on his home soil. Each of them is returning home; each is discovering that home is no longer what it was when they left.
The frenetic interchange between story strands, although complementary, means none of the stories get quite the attention they deserve. The world of the ex-Afghanistan soldier – sent home in disgrace after committing violence against a civilian – is the most arresting of all and could be presented full-length on its own, but its building tensions and climactic moments sometimes seem undermined as they wrestle for space with the other strands. The WWI story, while beautifully acted and empathically worded, doesn’t put forward anything new. That war breaks people and that men are in crisis through lack of outlet is well established. Then there’s the future strand: intriguing but never fully realised enough to draw you in.
The all-male cast of four rise to the challenge of the physically demanding show with aplomb. The monologues are uneven though, with some taking on that slightly awkward feel as of a self-conscious spoken word performance. Other moments really shine, like the men stepping into various female roles, always subtly done. Joe Layton is particularly impressive as the desperate ex-serviceman with nowhere left to turn, his entire body convulsed in anxiety.
Andrzej Goulding’s revolving shipping container set and Zoe Spurr’s stark lighting take us from battlefield to pub to Scarborough (or ‘Scarbados’) beach. Neil Bettles’ direction is oh-so slick and Frantic’s choreography is liquid-smooth. Transitions from past to present are seamless, presenting trauma flashbacks with full-bodied commitment.
Jordan‘s script straddles prose and poetry and is gorgeous to hear. I wanted to immerse myself in a single story and give the nuances of the protagonist time to unfurl, rather than share my attention between three. Regardless, it’s a pleasure to see Frantic’s signature movement so aptly applied. The Unreturning is evocative and human: it is an exploration of home and the self, and what happens when you lose the sense of either.