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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

The Unknown Soldier

Grist to the Mill

Genre: Drama, Solo Show, Storytelling, Theatre

Venue: Assembly Hall


Low Down

A story of the deep friendship that can only be found between those who fight together, of the betrayal that was felt by them in a world that had changed forever. A solo piece that brings to life this little known period at the end of World War One – looking at the conflict through the eyes of a man who has stayed on after the guns fell silent to help clear the battlefields and build the great cemeteries.


Amidst all the shows about the first war this one stands out as concentrating on the relationships that are forged under duress and the loyalty to comrades even beyond death. It is something that those of us who haven’t been through that training, that experience, that loss, can never hope to really understand.  Ross Ericson (writer and performer) has and uses that to take us into the heart of the experience.

It also brings a fresh perspective being set in France just after the war where Sergeant Jack Vaughan is part of the military detachment that stayed on in France and Belgium for several years after the Armistice. Their job was to recover bodies and body parts, identify them if possible, and give them an honourable burial or reburial. The images he gives us of that aftermath pull no punches – bloated bodies in shell holes, parts of bodies… that they identified less than half as they created and those they buried created ‘huge parade grounds of the dead’. A time when the futility of the entire war must have hit hard after the exhaustion of four years of fighting and loss. Interspersed with the horrors of war are memories of childhood, home and peace which serve to highlight the tragedy. As do the moments of black humour that make the situation bearable.

The writing is clear, punchy and well-structured as Jack potters about everyday tasks talking to his fallen comrade Tom in a very direct way. The Baillie room is perhaps not the ideal setting, the tiny stage leaves Ericson little room to move despite the simple set of a French cottage with camp beds. And it’s a bit… well, comfortable, and that creates something of barrier despite Ericson’s relaxed and entirely convincing delivery.

The story reimagines the soldier at the heart of the process of selecting the body that became the Unknown Warrior buried with full military honours in Westminster Abbey on November 11th 1920. There is a gradually increasing tension between the way he approaches that task and the anger and rage that he has repressed in the years of fighting that builds towards a powerful condemnation of war.

This is a beautifully written yet simple piece that will stay with you long after you have left the theatre.