The Unreturning

Theatre Bouquets 2018




Another year, another plethora of exciting theatre. We’ve been moved, motivated and mesmerised by so much of what we’ve seen. And here, in order of viewing, are our favourites of 2018.

The Belle’s Stratagem – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


This production looked ravishing, the brightly-hued costumes blazing against the simple monochrome set. Fast, furious and frenetic, this was a real crowd-pleaser.

Rhinoceros – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


A truly glorious production, as witty and vivacious as it was prescient. There were some great comic turns, and the sensual, Middle Eastern-inflected music added to the mood of transformation.

Creditors – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


We thought we’d seen all we wanted of Strindberg, but Creditors made us think again. Because this production was a prime example of the director’s art: the realisation of a vision that illuminated and animated the playwright’s words, breathing new life into old ideas.

Sunshine on Leith – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh


Sunshine On Leith was an absolute charmer. From the opening chords of the climactic I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), the entire audience was delightedly clapping hands and stamping feet with a force that seemed to shake the beautiful old theatre to its very foundations.

Home, I’m Darling – Theatr Clwyd, Yr Wyddgrug


A clever play, with a lot to say. Katherine Parkinson starred as Judy, a woman obsessed with the 1950s. Through her brittle fetishisation of the past, the script laid bare the problem with rose-tinted reminiscence and looked at the present with an eye that matched Judy’s gimlet cocktail.

Not in Our Neighbourhood – Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre, Edinburgh


This powerful and compelling production, written and directed by Jamie McCaskill, tackled the difficult subject of domestic abuse and featured an astonishing central performance from Kali Kopae. We saw some superb acting at the Fringe this year, but this was singularly impressive.

Six the Musical – Udderbelly, Edinburgh


An inventive and exuberant pop-opera, which felt like the most exciting, vibrant history lesson ever. The band and actors powered effortlessly through a whole range of different musical styles, from straight pop to power ballad, from soul to Germanic disco. The songs featured witty lyrics which related the women’s experiences in modern day terms – and we’ve been obsessed with them ever since.

The Swell Mob – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh


The most genuinely immersive theatrical experience we’ve ever been part of. We were free to wander the 1830s tap room, replete with a real bar, and mix with a whole host of extraordinary characters: a crooked American doctor, a fortune teller, a soldier, a card-player… The more we engaged, the more was revealed… Superb and truly innovative.

Macbeth – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh


We were relieved and delighted that this touring production was so good. We knew that this interpretation of the play had been quite controversial, but it really worked for us. It captured the very essence of Macbeth and illuminated the themes and characters with great clarity.

The Unreturning – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


A tale about young men and the shattering effect that war can have on them, simultaneously a requiem for the past and a chilling warning for our potential future. The haunting prose was augmented by incredible physicality as the actors ran, leapt, clambered and whirled around the stage in a series of perfectly choreographed moves.

Beauty and the Beast – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh


There’s panto – and then there’s panto at the King’s, where the ante is well and truly upped. Here, we were treated to an absolute master class in the form: there’s an art to making the precise look shambolic, the crafted seem accidental. And it was so funny – even the oldest, daftest jokes had us roaring with laughter.

Mouthpiece – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


Powered by searing performances from Neve Macintosh and Lorn MacDonald, Mouthpiece was, quite simply, an astonishing play. Kieran Hurley’s ingenious circular narrative eventually brought the two protagonists head-to-head in a brilliant fourth-wall breaking climax.

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney



The Unreturning


Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

The Traverse Theatre is sold out tonight, testament to the fact that Frantic Assembly are arguably the UK’s leading exponent of physical theatre. The fact that their work is on many a drama exam syllabus may account for the scores of teens in the audience, or maybe it’s just that everyone already knows how good they are. Either way, this co-production with the Theatre Royal Plymouth is currently touring the country, and the word of mouth has clearly been good enough to pull in a crowd.

As we take our seats, a large metal shipping container appears to be floating centre stage on a pool of rippling water. The lights dim, the music begins to pulse and sliding doors in the container open and close introducing us to the four young actors who will be presenting Anna Morgan’s The Unreturning. Then the container starts to spin like a well-oiled merry-go-round and, from the very first moment right up to the powerful ending, I am totally mesmerised.

This is a story set in three different time periods. In 1918, young army officer George (Jared Garfield) returns from the trenches traumatised by the horrors he has endured and longing to be reunited with his wife, Rose. In 2018, squaddie Frankie (Joe Layton) comes back from a tour of Iraq in disgrace, after participating in an act of mindless violence after the death of one of his comrades. And in 2026, Nat (Jonnie Riordan), who has fled to Norway in order to avoid conscription in the UK, decides to head back to his homeland in the hope of reconnecting with his younger brother, Finn (Kieton Saunders-Browne), with whom he has recently lost contact. All three men are heading for the same place: their home town of Scarborough.

This is a tale about young men and the shattering effect that war can have on them. It is also about the importance of home and about what it represents to different people.  It is simultaneously a requiem for the past and a chilling warning for our potential future. Director Neil Bettles handles the piece with consummate skill as the four actors flit athletically from role to role, somehow finding time to refigure their costumes, so I am never in any doubt as to where I am or when I am. Morgan’s haunting prose is augmented by incredible physicality as the actors run, leap, clamber and whirl around the stage in a series of perfectly choreographed moves. Special praise must go to Andrzej Goulding’s deceptively simple set design, which allows the shipping container to be all manner of locations: a ruined house, a boat, a vehicle speeding along a motorway…

Look, I won’t beat about the bush here. This is, quite simply, a brilliant piece of theatre. If it comes to a venue near you, please don’t miss the opportunity to see it. It really is very accomplished, an absolute wonder to behold.

5 stars

Philip Caveney