Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Jack stayed on when the guns fell silent, to search amongst the rusty wire and un-exploded bombs for those that could never go home. For Jack has a promise to keep and a debt to repay. A story of comradeship, betrayal and loss in a world forever changed by the carnage of the First World War.
“When the peace treaty is signed, the war isn’t over for the veterans, or the family. It’s just starting.” – Karl Marlantes
At the end of World War I, after the Armistice was signed, and after the soldiers had returned to something like what they knew of home, after the peace had been agreed, and the tanks had rolled away, after the cities and towns had begun rebuilding, the few stayed behind to catalogue the dead, volunteering to collect what remains they could, and attempt to return the lost souls to their grieving but expectant families. They say that war isn’t over when it ends and this is a point poignantly and eloquently made by The Unknown Soldier.
The dark wooden structure that houses the show reminds us sharply of a military dugout and with the rain rattling the roof and the wind whistling in the metal structure it isn’t hard to be transported back to the dirt and the noise of the trenches of Europe. A small bed and some other basic furniture are the only indicators of life, but there is a sense of home here, of ownership and belonging, of an extended residency however simple.
The story reveals itself in a series of well-placed and sensitively observed conversations. Jack, the aforementioned resident regaling us and an unseen companion, Tom, with reminiscences of the war, observations on life in the trenches, and thoughts of the world that lies beyond, interspersed with poetic verse masterfully delivered and delicately placed so as not to seem contrived. Indeed the narrative takes us on a sometime happy sometime regretful sometime jovial sometime angry journey through the trenches, the towns in ruin, and finally the journey home.
There are many accounts of wartime Europe coming from many different points of view and with many and varied emphasis but this production stands out among the canon. Simple yet clever lighting and sound support a wonderfully humble yet fiercely strident performance with immaculate attention to detail and nuance. A difficult but necessary anecdote of one man’s struggle for redemption and catharsis in a world of closing doors and wrenching loss. Within an overburdened festival, The Unknown Soldier is something of a dark horse and truly a hidden gem. Seek it out.
“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill