Writer: Anna Jordan
Director: Neil Bettle
Reviewer: James Eves
War takes its toll on everyone it touches, no matter who you are or when you fight. It doesn’t discriminate and it does not hold back, and this is exactly what Anna Jordan’s production, The Unreturning very much succeeds in highlighting.
We follow the stories of George, Frankie and brothers Nat and Finn. All of these have nothing in common, except for experiences of war and a want to return to their home of Scarborough. They don’t even share the same time periods. George is on his way home from the end of the First World War in 1918, Frankie has been given leave from the Iraq war in 2013, and Nat is searching for his brother Finn amidst the ruins of a future war of 2026.
The writing of this play really does need to be admired. These three stories interlink and share so many similarities that you’re always able to keep track of what’s happening between the three of them. The wordplay and the monologues create such definitive visualisations and shifts in tone, it’s clear every word has been thought about, and the proof is right there in front of you.
Delivering such an intricate text in a convincing manner is a mammoth task to say the least, lucky then that the performers of this show are nothing short of exceptional, and each give a first class performance. They aren’t just their individual characters but each multirole as supporting characters in each other’s stories, and they do so with such fluidity that sometimes makes the cast of four seem like one much larger. Each has their shining moments and touching monologues and they don’t miss the opportunity to take it. It’s a pleasure to see them perform with such confidence and charisma on stage, bringing these characters to life and making their sufferings all the more convincing and heart-wrenching. This is also due to director Neil Bettle’s fantastic choreography and style, who brings hints of that now famous Frantic Assembly physicality to the fore, while adding his own unique and mesmerising twist to it, resulting in a truly remarkable show.
It isn’t just the actors, director and the writer who have put the work in for this production though, it truly is a team effort, and this shows through the design of the show as well. The set, projection, sound and lighting all bring their own unique aesthetic to this already exceptional production. Styled as a shipping container, the set by Andrzej Goulding is anything but. With moveable panels, ladders, footholds and folding doors, this multipurpose container becomes the backdrop to every scene, and the pinnacle of every transition, and it works so well. Its practicality and how the performers utilise it creates a sense of wonder in the theatre, and when accompanied by Goulding’s video projection, makes for some stunning moments in the show.
The sound design by Pete Malkin and lighting design Zoe Spurr add the depth that a show of this calibre needs to put the metaphorical icing on the cake. With subtle orchestras in the background or blisteringly loud dance music accompanying a dim stage with a single, pinpoint spotlight or a completely blinding lighting flash to mask a transition, the lighting and sound not only work well together but with the rest of the production as a whole to create a sense of absolute synchronicity within this piece.
In every sense of the word, The Unreturning is a visual and auditory feast. The Unreturning has such a high level of professionalism around it while also utilising everything at its disposal to make this such a hard-hitting and expertly executed production that, despite what its name may imply, you will definitely want to return to the theatre to see this show again.
Runs until 20 October 2018 | Image: Tristram Kenton