Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Writer Nikki Cotter
Based on the 1918 novella of the same name by Rebecca West, The Return of The Soldier is an emotive new British musical brought to atmospheric and achingly beautiful life in Hope Mill Theatre’s intimate space.
The fourth of this year’s five in-house musicals from the award-winning pairing of Hope Mill Theatre and Katy Lipson tells the story of a soldier returning from WWI who is suffering from memory loss, or as we now know it a symptom of PTSD. Rather than returning to the wife he no longer remembers he returns to his first love who now married herself has never quite forgotten the joyful days they shared. What follows is a tender and fascinating story as the pain of unexpressed emotion has far-reaching and heart-wrenching effects.
Tim Sanders’ beautifully crafted book and lyrics are delicately directed by Charlotte Westenra, paired with Charles Miller’s stunning score, The Return of The Soldier is quite simply, beautiful.
The simplicity of the piano and cello ensure this new chamber musical packs and emotional punch delivered in the most exquisitely affecting of ways, highlighted magnificently by Aaron J Dootson’s lighting design.
Chris Jenkins gives a commanding performance as returning soldier Christopher Baldry, lost in what he remembers as his idyllic past, he convincingly switches from harsh and abrasive in his confused present to playful and mellow in his reignited past, illustrating the complexity and tragedy of the effects of war perfectly.
Tessa Kadler impresses greatly as Chris’ forgotten wife Kitty, last seen at Hope Mill Theatre in Pippin, Kadler’s portrayal of a wife grieving for a husband who is still very much alive is both powerful and impassioned, her despair at the rejection she feels channelled into a determination to fix this desperately sad situation. Kadler sings beautifully with warmth and emotion, a contrast to her seemingly cold nature and a hint of what is to come.
Naomi Slights is perfectly cast as Margaret Grey, the working class first love of Captain Baldry. She delicately manoeuvres between being a loyal and committed wife to Mr Grey (Marc Pickering) and embracing the opportunity to feel alive again with Christopher Baldry. Her characterisation is impressively strong and draws you in entirely as she journeys from ecstatic highs to guilt ridden lows with just the right amount of measured energy for the demands of this complex and emotional role.
Marc Pickering gives a masterclass in acting in his character portrayals of both William Gray the loveable, dependable, safe, pickle-making husband of Margaret and Dr Gilbert Anderson the eccentric, highly animated and incredibly amusing Freudian-esque psychoanalyst, his performance as both characters is utterly joyful to watch.
Esme Sears shines in the role of Christopher’s dedicated cousin Jenny, the story dictates she is more an observer than a character who drives the story but her emotional connection to the other characters adds depths and richness to the emotion of this fascinating story in which she ultimately plays an important part. Sears portrayal is delicate and gently determined delivered with striking style.
The Return of The Soldier demonstrates perfectly how compelling quality storytelling can be, there is no need for flashy chorus numbers here as the superb acting, sublime score and delicate direction combine to create a cleverly constructed, tender and absorbing story. Kudos to producers Hope Mill Theatre, Aria Entertainment and Guy James Theatrical Ltd for once again bringing bold and inspiring new work to the forefront.
Full of heart and achingly beautiful, The Return of The Soldier is a simply stunning must-see.
The Return of The Soldier is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 29th September, tickets can be found here.
*Photo credits Phil Tragen