A legit piece was not what I expected to be the latest offering from the contemporary pen of composer Charles Miller, a writer whose work I admire, and this proves an interesting departure from his usual style.
The Return Of The Soldier tells an intriguing tale of a soldier returning from war with a blast injury to the head that renders him completely unable to remember his wife, but overflowing with feelings for a previous partner, now married to someone else. That love story rekindles, to the horror of his slighted wife, and a complex tale unfolds of a woman broken by losing a husband who is still alive, and a guilty mistress torn by emotions old and new.
The story holds a lot of promise and leaves you wanting to know the eventual outcome, and it is told with a beautifully written score. However, it is not perfect. I found Act One rather hard to follow: it took a long time to figure out exactly what was going on, and I spent rather too long trying to fathom it all out rather than becoming enveloped by the story. Act Two was far more engaging, and much clearer, but as a whole I found the show rather slow, and wanted it to get to the point more swiftly, somehow. The music certainly shows a different side to Charles Miller’s writing palette, but it became rather samey after a while, and more challenging to discern one song from another, or allow any of them to stand out in my memory. Having said that, there were many elegant, soaring melodies, and some stunning harmonies which give this small chamber piece musical prowess.
I very much enjoyed the performances of the three actresses in the show. I have great respect for the work of Laura Pitt-Pulford, here playing Margaret, the ex-girlfriend, and have previously found her to be excellent in all roles I’ve seen her play. She did not in any way disappoint in this piece, delivering a skilfully-sung, wonderfully truthful performance as this love-torn woman who you somehow can’t help but side with, despite feeling she is in the wrong for her actions. Zoë Rainey, with a West End pedigree, gives us a chillingly icy Kitty, who as the wife should be the character with whom we most connect and sympathise, but her portrayal of the character is so hard and aloof that we can’t quite find it in our hearts to hope for her entirely. Zoë gave us stunning vocals and brought such sophistication to the role that I am already looking forward to finding another opportunity to see her perform. In the role of Jenny, the soldier’s young cousin, is recent graduate Charlie Langham, fresh out of drama school and so perfectly cast in this English rose role. Her vocal work was crystal clear and extremely well controlled, with an exquisite sound, both in speech and song. Without a doubt this actress, in her first professional role, is one to watch.
Michael Matus as William Grey, Margaret’s husband, brings some welcome comedy relief, and as the psychiatric doctor, shows us impressive versatility. In the title role, as soldier Christopher Baldry, is Stewart Clark, who filled this tiny space with his presence and full-bodied voice.
Delightful orchestrations, brought to life by piano and cello, were faultlessly managed by musical director Simon Lambert.
It is wonderful to see a small chamber musical in a tiny theatre space in the West End – much more of this type of production should find a way to the professional stage in this way. With such an impressive cast, this is one to catch while it is London. However, I am left wondering if it needs some treatment to the script, and some trimming of the score, to allow it to move along with more pace and a clearer delivery of the story from the outset.
Review by Nikki Laurence
The Return of The Soldier
CAST: Captain Christopher Baldry – Stewart Clarke
Margaret Grey – Laura Pitt-Pulford
Kitty Baldry – Zoe Rainey
William Grey/Dr Anderson – Michael Matus
Jenny Baldry – Charlie Langham
Directed by Charlotte Westenra
Music by Charles Miller
Book and Lyrics by Tim Sanders
Musical Director Simon Lambert
Designer Simon Anthony Wells
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Thursday/Saturday matinees 3.30pm. Additional performances Monday 8th 7.30pm, Sunday 14th at 3.30pm
Thursday 4th September 2014