Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Return Of The Soldier

Book and lyrics by Tim Sanders, music by Charles Miller, from the novel by Rebecca West
Hope Mill Theatre
Hope Mill
06 September 2018 to 29 September 2018

Rebecca West was 24, an accomplished journalist and women's rights campaigner, when she wrote her 1918 debut novel, The Return of the Soldier. Eclipsed somewhat by her later output, it was brought back into focus by a film in 1982, and now there’s this musical, first seen, in the West End, four years ago.

This revival is a new production - yet another from the award-winning Hope Mill - but not, I’m afraid, one of their best.

We’re in Harrow 1916, where thirty-six-year-old Chris (Chris Jenkins) has returned from the front physically OK but badly shell-shocked. He can’t remember the past 15 years of his life, anything at all beyond the age of 21.

Then, he was in love with Margaret (Naomi Slights), a barmaid who stole his heart. Now, however, he has forgotten he and Margaret lost contact and that he married Kitty (Tessa Kadler) and with her had a child who died.

He thinks he is coming home to marry Margaret, but she too has married in the meantime. It’s a passionless marriage, but her bumbling husband William (Marc Pickering) needs her. In the mix there’s also a cousin, Jenny (Esme Sears), who lends poor Kitty moral support and still harbours a passion for Chris.

Still with me?

Thank goodness for a strong cast, particularly Slights and Pickering, and for cellist Ines Mota and musical director and pianist Daniel Jarvis, all of whom navigate their way through a vastly over-long and slow-paced evening with much-appreciated technical skills.

There is quite a lot to enjoy here, far too much in fact. Apart from its length, the show’s main fault is that it is dramatically unbalanced, springing a whole new set of circumstances on us so late in the evening that all we can do is wish it will wrap things up as speedily as possible.

The original is a novella rather than a lengthy novel: pity the adaptors here have over-blown it. Chopped down by an hour to an interval-less 90 minutes, they might really have something.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme