Review: The Unreturning at The Old Rep, Birmingham

by Julie Wallis

The Unreturning at The Old Rep

A Frantic Assembly and Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production written by Anna Jordan

The Old Rep is remembering our war heros with this splendid piece. Billed as a play, I’m not sure how to describe The Unreturning, but in some ways it’s so much more. It has a poetic majesty to it, the way the cast speak, almost to each other, but not quite, as they are all living years apart.

The unreturning
The unreturning

George (Jared Garfield) returns home after the Great War, it’s 1918 and his beloved wife Rosie can’t cope with his nightmares, his post traumatic stress, she wants her old George back, she wants to start a family and live a normal life, but George is remembering the Germans he met in No mans land on Christmas Day.

In 2013 Frankie (Joe Layton) has returned from his tour of Afghanistan, a bit of a thug, he can’t understand how he is in the wrong, he was given a gun and told to kill people, that’s what he did, he did as he was instructed, he’s a good soldier, so why do the newspapers want to make a mockery of him, why are there viral videos of him torturing some poor Young Afghani?

And Nate (Jonnie Riordan), back home from his own hell, sometime in the 2020s, looking for his family in war torn North Yorkshire, looking for a missing brother who is already dead he returns to his bombed out childhood home.

The Unreturning photo by Tristram Kenton
The Unreturning photo by Tristram Kenton

Chilling in places, moving in places and just tragic throughout, this tiny cast do an absolutely amazing job. With just four members of cast including Kieton Saunders-Browne as Finn. the part of George’s wife Rosie is played by Joe Layton, still wearing his combat trousers, the audience needs to use their imagination, but it’s not hard. This is all very moving, touching and ultimately sad. We already know how futile war is, and The Unreturning brings home the hard hitting truth.

The set is just one piece of equipment, a shipping container, and as it spins around the stage, going through time like some dodgy tardis, the audience are whisked from the trenches of the Great War, to the Scarborough coast and landmines in Afghanistan. The choreography of the container and the cast within is breathtaking.

The Unreturning is one act, but it really does feel much longer, in a good way. An awful lot of story unfolds in approximately 90 minutes. Three War hero’s return home, decades apart, they all want the same thing, they all want life to be as it was before, they are asking the impossible.

The Unreturning is thought provoking and emotional, but a very real taste of how life changes for everyone involved in conflict. A terrific piece of theatre for armistice month.

This is well worth checking out, as it’s not nearly as grim as it could be. This is a well acted, thoughtful production, not quite the all singing, all dancing, jazz hands I’m used to, but thoroughly entertaining nonetheless.

Check out The Unreturning at The Old Rep until 2nd November. Book tickets here.

This isn’t a sponsored post. #BrumHour was invited to see The Unreturning by The Old Rep.

When Julie is not blogging theatre for #BrumHour she can be found on her own blog at