Anna Jordan‘s evocative production The Unreturning, brought to the stage by Frantic Assembly, explores the idea of home and identity. Through the lives of three men – separated by a century yet all subject to the effects of war – the play uses a highly physical set and a cinematic background score to bring to life a jarring, honest portrayal of the heavy toll of war.
Four actors bring three stories to life – in this particular production directed by Neil Bettles, they all come home to Scarborough. Despite the time that separates them, they are all haunted by the same demons. The story of the ‘shell-shocked’ soldier George (Jared Garfield) coming home in 1918 is hard-hitting and poignant, reminiscent of Erich Maria Remarque’s The Road Back. As he comes back to his wife Rosie, his life is fraught with PTSD and acute trauma from the battlefield. Frankie’s story (portrayed by Joe Layton) is of a discharged soldier coming back to the UK in 2018 from Afghanistan. With a less romanticised tone than the former tale, he struggles with internalising the dishonour that lead to his discharge from service. Nat’s storyline (Jonnie Riordan) transports us to a future where a young man arrives into a United Kingdom afflicted by civil war in 2026. It takes the action to a visceral level, with his journey from a Norwegian refugee camp to Scarborough reflecting the lives of millions worldwide who are forced to leave home for fear of persecution. In the last story, in particular, the clever use of lighting adds a beautiful touch.
The actors move with grace and fluidity and Pete Malkin’s music is the perfect accompaniment to the gamut of emotions displayed. Andrzej Goulding’s set design is innovative and minimal, which directs the focus to the performance itself. The entire production forces the audience to examine the notion of identity and what it means to call a place home and its people your own. Through the young men’s struggles, the pressures of ‘masculinity’ come to life, with men being forced to repress feelings, emotions and ‘man up’. This is a losing battle for the state of men’s mental health. The Unreturning‘s unflinching approach to war’s repercussions on the individual make for a moving production, which will stay with the audience long after the show is done.