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The Unreturning – Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

Writer: Anna Jordan

Director: Neil Bettles

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

A refugee from civil war spends his last money to get on an illicit boat ride home: while the war still rages, he has heard that his home town is part of a region that is back in government control, and he is anxious to reconnect with a brother he has lost contact with.

What makes this, one of three intertwining strands in Anna Jordan’s mesmerising work about war and the effect it has on its soldiers, so intriguing is that this is no foreign country: Nat is eager to return to Scarborough. His is the Yorkshire of 2026, war torn and ravaged.

Nat’s story is delicately woven with that of Joe Layton’s World War 1 soldier George, traumatised by shell shock and the loss of his section, and Jared Garfield as Frankie, a 2013 veteran who is home in disgrace after killing a civilian.

For each of the three men, the thought of Scarborough as home gives them initial hope – but, muses Jordan’s script, how can one fit back in when war has changed one so much.

That the trio of stories overlap so effectively is the key to the success of Neil Bettles’s production. The set, a constantly rotating shipping container, opens up like a Chinese puzzle box, illuminated by video projections from designer Andrzej Goulding and exquisite lighting by Zoe Spurr.

Scene transitions work so quickly and effectively that it seems at times that the play has a significantly larger cast than just four men. Partly, too, one is swept up by the poetry of Jordan’s dialogue and the fluidity of Frantic Assembly’s trademark physical work, nightmare visions and drug-fuelled party nights out played out with acutely observed choreography.

It may seem at first that the themes of Jordan’s play – emotional repression, PTSD, and the like – are familiar paths to tread. But in skewing her glance a little (after the famous 1914 Christmas truce, what was it like for soldiers on the front a year later, for example) she comes up with a work of devastating freshness.

The revelation that war’s greatest legacy is the pain it inflicts on its soldiers is not a new one, to be sure. But with Jordan echoing that message across a century, The Unreturningwarns us that it will ever be so.

Runs until February 2, 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton

Writer: Anna Jordan Director: Neil Bettles Reviewer: Scott Matthewman A refugee from civil war spends his last money to get on an illicit boat ride home: while the war still rages, he has heard that his home town is part of a region that is back in government control, and he is anxious to reconnect with a brother he has lost contact with. What makes this, one of three intertwining strands in Anna Jordan’s mesmerising work about war and the effect it has on its soldiers, so intriguing is that this is no foreign country: Nat is eager to return…

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work of devastating freshness

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