The Return of The Soldier

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

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.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

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.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

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.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

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.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

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

Pippin

Pippin 1

First premiered on Broadway an incredible 45 years ago, Katy Lipson, Guy James and Hope Mill Theatre’s revival of Tony award winning Pippin shows no signs of age and is as magical and enchanting as we hoped it would be.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin tells the tale of a young man in search of something to believe in, a path to follow, ultimately, he is in search of himself. Loosely based on ‘Pepin’ the son of 8th Century King Charlemange, Pippin sets about trying out life and all it has to offer via different careers and different directions in order to find his corner of the sky. Maeve Black’s stunning Victorian Vaudeville setting paired with stunning lighting design from Aaron J. Dootson allows the players to truly tell this tale in the most theatrical and immersive of ways, making Pippin a remarkably bold and striking production.

Pippin 3

Pippin’s search and the different paths it leads him down illustrates clearly that with all its craziness and drama the world is indeed a stage, as the players perform and indulge Pippin his desires, we realise everything we see is an act. Leading player Genevieve Nicole is a wholly commanding presence, she steers and controls her fellow players who perform beautifully on her instruction, she shines in the role and bursts with sass and dangerous charisma as she steers Pippin through his search for fulfilment.

Jonathan Carlton is brilliantly cast as Pippin, he perfectly portrays the young Prince’s naivety and frustrations, the development in his character is wonderful to see as each experience leaves its mark and changes his outlook on life. Carlton’s delivery of Corner Of The Sky is especially beautiful, full of emotion and wonderfully displays the hopelesness he feels with his inability to fit in and understand his path in life.

The whole ensemble are superb, hardworking and utterly captivating. Director Jonathan O’Boyle has created a tight and incredibly slick team who are entirely in sync with each other. William Whelton’s choreography is sharp and precise and really adds to the beauty of this special piece while musical director Zach Flis delivers the sublime score to perfection.

Pippn 2

High praise must also go to Mari Barclay who plays both Fastrada and Berthe, her characterisation is exceptional, with brilliant comic timing and larger than life delivery she excels in both roles and also as a member of the superb ensemble.

The quality and delivery of Pippin is top class, the pairing of Katy Lipson and Hope Mill Theatre is a true gift to Manchester. Engaging, captivating and entirely magical, Pippin convincingly worked its magic and enchanted completely. A real gem of a show delivered with real style and sass.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 23rd September tickets£20, concessions £18 available via the following link http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

Pippin