Creator: Natasha Stanic Mann
A profoundly personal story, The Return questions our freedom of choice and asks how much of our lives are influenced by culture, past, and of course, family history. The production moves over generations, some ravaged by war, some seeking solace in a new land – all culminating as theatre producer Natasha Stanic Mann performs her original piece on growing up surrounded by war, from the encircling news broadcasts to the human impact.
The principal issue with the production lies not with the idea of storytelling, nor the blend of spoken words or innovative movement, but in the mixture of methods. None embolden the other and instead detract in the time it takes to move from one to the next. Synergy lacks throughout, and structure takes an almost distant seat where its missing presence impacts the show as we cycle between sequences with little context.
Not without emotion, to the contrary, even with this absent structure, The Return evokes a plethora of triggers and questions surrounding personal journey and influences of who we are with the physical nature of the performance. The to-and-fro movements of restriction and eventual freedom come quite naturally, forging a distinct atmosphere through the dance onstage – channelling a more concise method of storytelling than much of the spoken word segments.
And this stems from creator and performer Natasha Stanic Mann’s determination and sincerity in performance. Exploring the undocumented or under-discussed consequences of war, Mann hides little (if anything) of her personal experience of the shrapnel war in Croatia has had on her family and living with the intergenerational damages it took. Living through conflict in the nineties, now in the UK in uncertain times for performers in a post-Brexit industry, there’s an underlying fear in Mann’s performance which is as raw as the movement she conceives.
The storytelling of various generations is conveyed through spoken word, the context is clear, but the illustrative use of language falters somewhat. Superficial, Mann’s spoken word recitations feel at odds with the movement and stage dynamic, rather than supportive. Valentino Nioi’s sound design makes for a significant portion of The Return’s creativity, dipping from the back to the forefront of performance where required: from the child-friendly tunes to the sharp twangs of trauma to snap the audience out of nostalgic memories to the bullies of youth. Erupting sirens, the calls of war and distress, The Return is perhaps more of an auditory experience than a visual one.
Unique, Josephine Tremelling’s lighting equally controls much of the dynamic of the show. Dipping and toying magnificently with colour combinations, the lighting serves as a reinforcement for the movement pieces, enhancing them significantly to temper or cool the mood. As an experimental piece, it is within these creative choices where the ingenuity of The Return lies. Equally, it works well with the production’s recording for a digital space. The camera work captures the intimacy of Mann’s expressions and reactions, conveying more emotion than with a distant glance.
There are tremendous depths present within The Return, but the well remains untapped as keenly as it could be. Sound and lighting designs overshadow the performance element, where spoken word and movement cannot align themselves for the common purpose. It all culminates in a production which, in fragments, has rich emotional turmoil and understanding, but in others seems to grapple with its sense of identity.
Available here until 25 February 2021