Dir. Philip Howard, Tron Theatre, 23rd February.
Seeing a cello waiting onstage when I enter the Changing House, I am immediately biased in favour of the play. And in fact, the music soon becomes my favourite thing about The Return. In a tale about abandonment, recognition and estrangement in the French Pyrenées, the combination of voice, violin and cello adds vital poignancy and playfulness. There is never more of a sense of a family reunited than when mother, father and child harmonise together, to the point where music replaces dialogue. This is particularly effective and striking, as the notes convey much more than words and enhance an otherwise quite mediocre plot.
The evolution of the story, and even the dialogue, quickly become slightly repetitive, and the running metaphor of the shepherdess seducing and trapping a bear is too long-winded to retain my interest. But the performances of Emily Patry as Bertrande, Thoren Ferguson as Arnaud, and Greg Sinclair as Sanxi make the play truly come alive, despite its problems. For me, The Return poses the question: Do you ever really know people, even those you love? And it’s scary to see that the play’s answer to this seems to be no.
With regards to this concept, I really admired casting a man in his thirties as the child. Sanxi’s recurring question to his mother about whether she would recognise him if he left and only came back years later acquires a whole new dimension in a character who is at once ten and in his mid-thirties.
Where recognition and alienation are ambiguous things in the play, the impressive set prevents the characters from losing any sense of where they belong. The mountain pastures and Bertande’s house are blended into one, with every place infusing the others and their inhabitants.
Overall, I am still unable to make up my mind as to how exactly I feel with regards to this play, but its merits undoubtedly made it a very enjoyable night at the theatre.