Aria Entertainment and Guy James in association with Penny Rock Theatre Productions and Jermyn Street Theatre have brought a musical adaption of Rebecca West’s 1918 novel to the stage with music by Charles Miller and Book and Lyrics by Tim Sanders.
Stewart Clarke (Ghost/Loserville) plays Christopher Baldry, the soldier sent back from war suffering with amnesia. He has no recollection of his wife Kitty (played by Zoe Rainey, best known for her role as Nessa-Rose in Wicked) and refuses to acknowledge their relationship. Instead Christopher chooses to rekindle a previous relationship with barmaid Margaret Grey (Laura Pitt-Pulford who recently starred in Marry Me A Little and The Light Princess), much to Kitty’s dismay. When a doctor is called in to help with Christopher’s amnesia, Margaret must make the decision whether to help bring his memory back, even if that will cause her to lose him once again.
Lucinda Francis has perfectly cast this show, with every character being played exquisitely. Laura Pitt-Pulford is one of London’s brightest new stars having performed in the National Theatre production of The Light Princess last year and having been working constantly in shows since then. She embodies the plain-jane persona of Margaret, a woman whisked away from her simple life and into the memory of past times. Zoe Rainey has a stern look that you would be foolish to mess with as Kitty, the wife who refuses to let her husband go without a fight. Her role is similar to Nessa-Rose which she played in Wicked, a woman so bitter and cold hearted she will do anything to protect herself and her best interests. You spend half the time feeling sorry for her and the other half thinking she deserves everything she gets! Michael Matus plays William Grey, the husband who would do anything for his wife and even turn a blind eye to her obvious re-kindling relationship. However, it is his other role as Dr Anderson where he really shines and demonstrates his acting abilities.
Musically this show has a tune and a melody that is used consistently throughout the piece, making it feel more like a broken up song cycle, where the songs continue on from one another and don’t necessarily try to prove themselves as different to each other.
The Return of the Soldier is a show I could happily watch over and over again. It is rare that a production can take hold of you like this does, where the world becomes hazy and for a couple of hours you become totally immersed in what you are watching. The intimate Jermyn Street Theatre is the ideal place to stage a musical of this kind, with the right amount of intimacy to hold the audiences attention. I doubt the show would feel as impactful as it does if it were in a larger venue. It is also an important story, with wars still happening around the world today, it shows that whilst we might choose to ignore the disasters war can cause, they very much still happen.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
The Return of the Soldier is playing at Jermyn Street Theatre until 20 September 2014. Click here for more information and to book tickets.
Photos by Darren Bell