THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER
book and lyrics by Tim Sanders music by Charles Miller based on the novel by Rebecca West.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16B Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST To 20 September 2014.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3.30pm extra performances 8 Sept 7.30pm, 14 Sept3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 287 2875.
Review: William Russell 6 September.
Casualties of war.
Rebecca West was only 23 when she published the novella on which this accomplished chamber musical is based in 1918. It deals with the impact on the lives of three women when a soldier returns from the front suffering from shell shock. He has forgotten his wife, remembers only the barmaid he had a romance with before his marriage, a woman now married to someone else but who remembers that lost love as the love of her life.
Her husband is kind, but dull. Inevitably the one time lovers meet. The wife is enraged by it all, and, class being what mattered then, rejects the very idea her husband, an officer and this a gentleman, could possible love this dreadful common woman, while his cousin, who is also in love with him, gets involved in the intrigues that ensue as does a psychiatrist.
Miller’s score, although he hasn’t really come up with standout melodies, rises to the challenges of the book. He has, however, given all the players strong individual turns and they all seize their chances brilliantly. Michael Matus as the chutney making husband, not at the front because of ill health, and the psychiatrist does a terrific double act, although his big song as the psychiatrist seems to belong to another show altogether. It is actually a point number and funny in its own right.
Laura Pitt-Pulford is very touching as his wife who loves her husband but loves her lost love too and sings superbly. Zoe Rainey manages to make one feel sorry for the wife who really is a ghastly snob, Stewart Clarke agonises to great effect as the soldier with no memory of his marriage, and Charlie Langham fleshes out the rather underwritten role of the spinster cousin who loves him in vain.
Charlotte Westenra directs with a firm hand, but the set, which is supposed to be the homes of the respective wives, is one of the worst to occupy the Jermyn Street stage that I have seen. Jermyn Street’s stage has its limitations but usually they inspire designers. Not this time.
In the end, of course, the soldier is “cured” but all that means is he goes back to the Front and this time the chances he will return are remote. There is no happy ending. This is not a show one leaves humming the tunes, but it does make you think.
Christopher Baldry: Stewart Clarke
Jenny Baldry: Charlie Langham
Kitty Baldry: Zoe Rainey
Margaret Grey: Laura Pitt-Pulford
William Grey/ Dr Anderson: Michael Matus
Director: Charlotte Westenra.
Designer: Simon Anthony Wells.
Lighting: Steve Lowe.
Musical Director: Simon Lambert.
Choreographer: Matthew Cole.