Ginger Hibiscus | Return of the Soldier Review at Jermyn Street Theatre by Ginger Hibiscus
Return of the Soldier Review at Jermyn Street Theatre by Ginger Hibiscus
Return of the Soldier Review at Jermyn Street Theatre by Ginger Hibiscus
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10 Sep REVIEW: Return of the Soldier at the Jermyn Street Theatre

When Captain Christopher Baldry unexpectedly returns from the World War I front line, his reappearance has a profound impact on three very different women. All of them have missed and worried about him, but only Mrs Margaret Grey knew he was coming back. Return of the Soldier, now showing at the Jermyn Street Theatre, is a new musical drama that explores the fallout of the War, on the men in the trenches, on the women left at home, and on the minds of the nation.

Packed with emotional intensity from the very first note, the opening scene sets the tone as, “I Await the Return of a Soldier,” rings out, echoing through the landscaped gardens of Mr and Mrs Baldry’s house, through the Grey’s modest kitchen and onto the lips of cousin Jenny. In setting the tone for the show, the female cast members position the bar incredibly high, yet still leap over it when the pressure is on.

Zoe Rainey is outstanding as Kitty Baldry, the wife buried deep in some inaccessible part of our soldier’s memory. Dry and disparaging, and outwardly strong whilst inwardly fractured, Kitty is a fascinatingly complex character; I felt myself oscillating between liking, admiring and empathising with her predicament, and disapproving of her selfish ways, affronted by her harshness. Kitty is the very picture of elegance, particularly set against Margaret Grey (Laura Pitt-Pulford) in her yellow raincoat with pulled back hair, sleeves rolled up to knead the bread. Belonging to a lower echelon of society, ex-barmaid Margaret is more of a warm and comely homemaker, taking care of her husband, William, who isn’t well enough for conscription. Nominated for an Offie Award for her depiction, Pitt-Pulford is excellent as a woman in turmoil, forced to confront tragic events whilst maintaining her strength and dignity.

Despite the differences between their characters, both Rainey and Pitt-Pulford give flawless vocal performances throughout, saturated with emotional intensity in a way that massages the tear ducts. Hauntingly lovely music accompanies them, with their rendition of, “No Man’s Land,” particularly memorable, exploring the experiential differences between the women, including love, perception, loss, jealousy and grief.

The subject of much of this emotion is, of course, the Soldier from the title. Stewart Clarke gives a striking performance as the shell-shocked Captain, inviting us to consider the fluidity and context of love and affection, and the fragility of memory and perception. With a little help from Michael Matus’ excellent psychotherapist Dr Anderson, we’re forced to pitch truth against happiness, and to consider the morality of treating soldiers, just for them to be declared fit and packed off to war again.

These dilemmas add an additional dimension to Return of the Soldier, beyond being simply a love story. I would have liked to have seen some more upbeat moments in act I, like we get with the psychotherapist in act II, and the relationship (or lack of) between Kitty and Margaret could have been explored much further, but all things considered, it’s a lovely new musical that I would definitely recommend.

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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