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The Unreturning

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

What happens to men of war when they come home? Are they heroes, survivors or casualties? These are some of the questions posed in Anna Jones’ new play, given an adrenalin-rush of a production by the Frantic Assembly company, whose trademark fusion of fast-moving text, honed physicality and hi-tech staging accompanies their first appearance at the Traverse for some years.

Jordan’s play presents three men across three different time-zones attempting to get back to Scarborough, the town they all once called home. George has just been discharged from duty in 1918 and is looking forward to a simple life with his true-love, Rose. Frankie is back from Afghanistan circa 2013 and wants to be one of the lads again down at the local boozer. Eight years into the future, meanwhile, Nat is a refugee trying to cross the sea to whatever awaits him in the thick of an English civil war.

Presented in collaboration with Theatre Royal Plymouth, Neil Bettles’ production brings Jordan’s criss-crossing triptych of stories to life in suitably explosive fashion inside designer Andrzej Goulding’s TARDIS-like shipping container that spins its way through time.

With a title drawn from a Wilfred Owen poem, Jordan’s play suggests the three men are brothers in arms pursuing the same shell-shocked battles in different guises. Jared Garfield, Joe Layton, Jonnie Riordan and Kieton Saunders-Browne are well-drilled and charged up to the max as the three men and their nearest and dearest they’re desperate to connect with.

There is much here about violence, institutionalised or otherwise, and the roots of what we now call toxic masculinity. Trauma too is at a premium, as it is in the National Theatre’s production of Macbeth, also running in Edinburgh this week. Exposed here in thrillingly stylised fashion, it is a trauma that festers in a world where the psychological fallout of war is all around.

The Herald, October 26th 2018


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