Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: The Unknown Soldier, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Susan Mansfield.
Last year’s 100th anniversary brought with it a plethora of First World War plays. A year on, one could be forgiven for wanting to give the subject a rest, but writer and performer Ross Ericson’s carefully judged one-man play proves there is always room for another when the quality is right.
Vaughan, Ericson’s soldier, has, against his own expectations, survived the war. Having lost his wife and child to the Spanish flu outbreak in England, he has stayed on at the Front to bury the dead, helping to create the mass cemeteries which many still visit today.
He is a stoic figure, doing his grim duty without complaint, calmly eating lunch from his mess-tin while he talks about bloated corpses and severed limbs. Though much of the play is calmly reflective, a vivid flashback section, loud with relentless gunfire, takes us into the horror of the Trenches.
Although this is well-trodden ground, Ericson’s writing is strong enough to give it vividness, and he does a good job of expressing a range of emotions, from despair to wry humour. The play draws out moments from history which show the complexity of the story, from jobless ex-servicemen rioting in Luton to grief-crazed women begging for their loved-ones to be dug up. In particular, he holds up for scrutiny the idea of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in which a single unidentified man becomes the focus for a nation’s feelings.
The play does not glorify war, nor does it dismiss it. This man, after all, is still in uniform, still committed to his terrible task. In the end, it’s not about glory or futility, it’s about the loyalty forged between friends in the worst of circumstances, and the simple hope of so many men to get home again to their native land, whether dead or alive.
Spotlites (Venue 278) until 31 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 28 August 2015
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