The Unknown Soldier

Centenary productions saturate the Fringe, yet the conceit at the heart of The Unknown Soldier puts it slightly above the masses. And masses are relevant here. The Great War has ended: dead soldiers abound and the Armed Forces lack the wherewithal to send them back. So former infantry play gravedigger, like our sole protagonist, Jack (played by Ross Ericson, who also wrote the piece). He’s a man with something to look for in the wasteland, but monologue this technically isn’t: Jack talks with an unseen, unheard interlocutor. We’ll learn who he is. We’ll also learn the identity of the unknown soldier.

Although missing a complex hero, there is a solitary, complex idea that runs through the The Unknown Soldier.

It’s a shame the play is mostly standard WWI fare: it’s hearty men who miss home-cooked meals and the girls at home. There are many stale moments, but Ericson doesn’t work harder in these. Instead, he opts for balance: reserved when retrospecting though ready to explode when called for. The energetic scenes are his best, with weaker charm in his quiet side; he can get mawkish, occasionally. Still, cheerily taking us through his profession and memories, he’s the host a surly battlefield needs, even when he slurs an unconvincing West Country accent. Production-side, director Michelle Yim weaves powerful anguish in a raid sequence that plays to Ericson’s strengths, but the actor generally cannot elevate his material. There’s too much too bland despite the play’s strong motif.

If only the idea of the unknown soldier took precedence. It’s a great image that receives far too little treatment and reveals far more character than the wartime trappings of second-rate works. A soldier forced to remain in No Man’s Land after armistice? Fantastic, but don’t have a character ask us ‘why am I fighting this war?’. There are also issues with pacing, but the lack of focus is the real letdown.

There is potential. Although missing a complex hero, there is a solitary, complex idea that runs through the The Unknown Soldier. This makes it a perfectly acceptable treatment of war, or at least its uncertain, morbid aftermath. 

Reviews by Oliver Simmonds

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Performances

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The Blurb

Jack stayed on when the guns fell silent, to search the battlefields for the boys that could not go home, and amongst the rusty wire and unexploded bombs Jack is looking for something. He has a promise to keep and debt to repay. And now there is this strange request from the generals. A new play from the award-nominated writer of Casualties about comradeship and betrayal following the carnage of World War One. Fringe Guru named it his new all-time number one Fringe play. ***** (FringeGuru.com). **** (Scotsman). **** (Stage).

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