Dame Rebecca West’s novel The Return of the Soldier was first published in the year that WW1 ended. Therefore this is not a story that has been written to mark the centenary of the war but dates from the time that the ravages of war were still raw and many had experienced the loss and affects first hand.
The story is set in 1916 and involves a soldier, Chris, returning from the conflict due to injury. It soon becomes obvious that his injuries are not physical but mental, today we recognise this as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, but in those days little realised or understood what was often referred to as “shell-shock”.
Chris returns to his comfortable lifestyle and family, but the problem is the horrors of war have made him forget the homelife that he’d left behind and more importantly the love he had for his wife, Kitty, perhaps because there was some kind of loss there too.
Instead he harks back to happier and carefree times with his cousin Jenny and their childhood and also his first love of barmaid Margaret Grey.
Margaret’s life has moved on in the intervening years, but she too rekindles her lost love with Chris, but she also realises his illness.
With help from a more forward thinking doctor the three loves of Chris’ life attempt to regain the man they all love.
The story in itself is brilliantly written and has stood the test of time, add to that the discovery of the story by Tim Sanders and Charles Miller who in 2014 adapted the tale as a musical. With it’s powerful numbers the story is told brilliantly.
The cast of Chris Jenkins, Tessa Kadler, Marc Pickering, Esme Sears and Naomi Slights are all excellent, the vocal performances and harmonies are powerful and faultless. Musical accompaniment is provided by piano and cello (Daniel Jarvis and Inés Mota).
Don’t miss it!!!!
This production is performed by the Hope Mill Theatre Company, Manchester and is at The New Wolsey, Ipswich until 6th October. Box Office 01473 295900.
Review: Mark Keable, Ipswich24
Photos: Phil Tragen