Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“Jack stayed on when the guns fell silent to search the battlefields for the boys that could not go home, for the dead and the missing, for both enemy and friend. And amongst the rusty wire and unexploded bombs, Jack’s looking for something, looking for someone. He’s a promise to keep and debt to repay, and now there is this strange request from the generals. A story of comradeship, betrayal and of promises both broken and kept following the carnage of World War One. A new theatre piece by the award nominated writer of Casualties.”
This is a very solid show, a portrayal of a soldier during the First World War. It tells the story the keeping of a promise, of life, death, regret, danger, all wrapped up in the “Great War.” Here we see the routine of a soldier as he reflects on a life in the trenches and wonders what life will bring when the guns stop firing and the bombs stop dropping.
It runs for around an hour and, during that time, I didn’t feel for one moment that I was not in a bunker, in the trenches, sharing the mud with a body and soul tired soldier. Written and performed by Ross Ericson, I valued the direct style of a monologue in which the solo performer addresses a friend who is now beyond the grave, but also includes we, the audience in that narrative.
This is a piece of direct, storytelling theatre, full of humour and tragedy. The small space at Spotlites, in the semi-round, draws us in and, so close up, it is possible to see the actor in a very detailed way. There’s nowhere for him to hide and this is a challenge for any performer who has to hold our attention and offer a believable character for an hour. Ross Ericson achieves that. we have to believe we are in a World War One bunker and, only a few times, did that falter slightly. it faltered when the sound effects, delivered through speakers, felt too unhinged from the action. it was at its best during a tightly choreographed gunfire scene. It felt less integrated when there was more of a general sound scape in the background. Then it felt too much like speakers. But it was mostly achieved though such a well drawn and realised character.
This is a very well written piece. it is full of detail, clearly and meticulously researched, and the performer is fully in the skin of the character, which draws we, the observers, the listeners, in too. By “draws in”, I mean we are invited to witness part of a life, a story, the reflections of a man, in humour and sadness, in fear and regret, as well as in loyalty and bravery. I felt drawn in. I stayed drawn in. As I write this review for The Unknown Soldier, I think of my own grandfather (no longer with us) who fought in the Somme. I think of the fact there are soldiers in trenches in parts of our world right now, some of whom will die unknown. And I’m glad I shared an hour with such an accomplished writer and performer, in an underground bunker at Spotlites. We can learn from this story. It is both an exhibit from history and a lesson for the future. I shared the fear, portrayed so well by Ericson. I wouldn’t want that for my kids. The Unknown Soldier remains with me. That’s strong theatre.