The Unreturning is a new play by award-winning playwright Anna Jordan, which is performed by Frantic Assembly. It is worth describing Frantic Assembly: this is a national training programme aimed at young men between the ages of 16 and 20. In their own words they ‘seek out talent in unexpected places’: these young men do not need experience of the arts to take part in the programme. The twelve brightest and best are then chosen to form the Ignition Company; they spend five days living and working together at the end of which they create an original performance. Many, like the four actors in The Unreturning, then go on to train as professional actors.
In The Unreturning, the stories of three soldiers returning from very different wars (1918, the war in Afghanistan and a war in the future) are interwoven: their experiences are very different but they all suffer trauma which affects them when they return. Jared Garfield plays George, returning from World War I where he survived an attack in which all his men died; Joe Layton plays Frankie, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who returns not a hero but a man under suspicion for maiming an Afghani boy; Jonnie Riordon plays Nat, a man paying smugglers for his way back to a destroyed home to find the brother he left behind. Kieton Saunders-Browne plays this brother but also a multitude of other parts – in fact all the actors play several parts. The set is a large shipping container, with multiple doors, which is pushed round and round and through which the actors come and go, seamlessly changing scenes by doing so.
The acting is superb and the choreography is quite brilliant: the actors move in and out of the container, round it, through it, over it, down the sides; their interaction with each other sometimes resembles a ballet. It is a tour de force of four actors working together. The lighting remains gloomy and foreboding throughout and the music is mostly loud, often like a heartbeat.
It is this music which was at times a problem. The words of this play are vitally important: because of the constant changing of scene, of story, even of parts by the actors, the words were what we needed to follow what was going on and the words are very powerful. Sometimes it was frustratingly hard to hear those words. Nevertheless, this is a gripping play, a powerful performance and a stark reminder of the havoc that wars wreak, not only on countries but particularly on the people caught up in them.