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The Return Of The Soldier, Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Book and lyrics:  Tim Sanders

Music: Charles Miller

Director: Charlotte Westerna

Reviewer: Richard Hall

As the Centenary of the end of The Great War approaches it is fitting that Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre has chosen to mark this significant anniversary by programming this wonderful musical. It serves as a timely and deeply poignant reminder that when the Armistice was signed in November 1918, the repercussions of war continued to be felt for a very long time afterwards.

Based on Rebecca West’s novella of the same title published towards the end of the Great War, The Return Of The Soldier is set in the summer of 1916. It shows a shell-shocked officer, Captain Christopher Baldry returning home from the trenches, struggling with severe mental trauma as the three women who love him, his wife a former lover and his cousin desperately try to nurse him back to his former self.

Suffering from amnesia, Baldry is unable to remember his wife Kitty, a former debutante and instead reaches out to his first love, Margaret, who now a married woman and from a lower social class had given up all hope of rekindling their relationship. Baldry’s cousin Jenny who has loved him since they were children, stands by powerless observing Christopher’s tortured reconciliations with the women he has loved. In an excellent programme article, writer Tim Saunders describes this situation as being, ‘not so much a love triangle, but more a pentagon of conflicting passions.’

Directed with great sensitivity and precision by Charlotte Westerna this production brilliantly shows how the Great War acted as a catalyst for social change. In their quest to regain Baldry’s love, Kitty and Margaret become locked in a fierce battle of wills which on one level comes to represent an intense fight between the old and new social orders. This provides the focus for the absorbing and compelling personal drama that follows.

As ever Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre have assembled an excellent ensemble cast that vividly bring this tender and touching story of lost love and self-sacrifice to life. Provided with captivating music that has heart, breadth and depth they impressively wring out every wrought emotion in Miller’s, deeply moving, melodious and vibrant score. This reviewer has had the pleasure of seeing many talented actor/singers perform at this theatre but this cast in his opinion is amongst the best he has seen.

Tessa Kadler as Kitty and Naomi Slights as Margaret are stunning, their heart rendering performances are guaranteed to capture and break audience hearts in equal measure. In the role of Captain Baldry, Chris Jenkins gives a performance of real maturity and quality. His portrayal of shell sock feels utterly authentic. In lesser hands, the role of Jenny could come across as being feeble minded and weak-willed but Esme Sears imbues the part with great dignity and inner strength. The extremely versatile Marc Pickering excels in playing both Margaret’s down to earth husband William and Baldry’s psychiatrist. He is gifted with several show-stopping numbers which he fully makes the most of delivering them with panache and excellent comic timing.

This reviewer has had the pleasure of seeing many talented actor/singers perform at this theatre but this cast in his opinion is among the best he has seen. Tessa Kadler as Kitty and Naomi Slights as Margaret are stunning, their heart rendering performances are guaranteed to capture and break audience hearts in equal measure. In the role of Captain Baldry, Chris Jenkins gives a performance of real maturity and quality. His portrayal of shellshock feels utterly authentic. In lesser

In lesser hands, the role of Jenny could come across as being feeble minded and weak-willed but Esme Sears imbues the part with great dignity and inner strength. The extremely versatile Marc Pickering excels in playing both Margaret’s down to earth husband William and Baldry’s psychiatrist. He is gifted with several show-stopping numbers which he fully makes the most of delivering them with panache and excellent comic timing.

The Return Of The Soldier provides a rare and fascinating glimpse into the emotional lives of those who experienced The Great War at the Front and at Home and there is surely no better time to see this terrific musical than in the immediate lead up to the Centenary commemorations in November. Hopefully based on the success of this production Hope Mill will look to programme more shows by Miller and Sanders and I for one will be delighted if they do so.

Runs at Hope Mill until Saturday 29 September  transfers to the Wolsey Theatre from 2 to 6 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

Book and lyrics:  Tim Sanders Music: Charles Miller Director: Charlotte Westerna Reviewer: Richard Hall As the Centenary of the end of The Great War approaches it is fitting that Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre has chosen to mark this significant anniversary by programming this wonderful musical. It serves as a timely and deeply poignant reminder that when the Armistice was signed in November 1918, the repercussions of war continued to be felt for a very long time afterwards. Based on Rebecca West’s novella of the same title published towards the end of the Great War, The Return Of The Soldier is set…

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The Reviews Hub Score

deeply poignant

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