The Unknown Soldier by Ross Ericson
Grist To The Mill production, directed by Michelle Yim
Upstairs @ The Western, Leicester: 24th - 29th August 2015
Review by: Paul Towers, 26 April 2017
'a multi layered portrayal of the horror of the trenches'
As we trooped into the intimate auditorium of Upstairs at the Western the all pervading drip drip of the rain reinforced the spartan misery of the trenches of World War One France. The guns had fallen silent two years previously but there was still grisly work to be done. The battlefields had to be cleared of bodies; fallen soldiers had to be buried or repatriated. Jack, a west country soldier had volunteered to stay on and help with the clear-up. His motives weren't entirely altruistic. He had made a promise to his best mate, Tom, that he would get him home, by hook or by crook. Killed in the last salvos of the war Jack was determined to find his buddy and somehow keep his promise. An opportunity came when the top brass were looking for an unidentified body to be shipped home and entombed in Westminster Abbey as the Unknown Warrior, just as the French had done. Surreptitiously Jack swapped the chosen corpse for Tom's and he was able to keep his last promise.
Written and performed by Ross Ericson this is a multi layered portrayal of the horror of the trenches juxtaposed with the intense comradeship of two disparate souls brought together through war. The narrative is broken up with verses of prose, while the narrative is liberally laced with the dark humour that terror so often produces.
The scene where Jack relives the final onslaught from the German artillery is visceral and illustrates perfectly why so many young men returned from the battlefields frightened out of their wits.
Ericson's powerful performance takes us right into the trenches, up to our knees in mud with mortars flying over our heads. Then, just as horrifically, we listen as he explains with macabre humour how he spends his days pulling body parts out of the muddy ground, sometimes forlornly attempting to match them up to men listed as missing.
As the Last Post finally sounds we, the audience, breathe a sigh of relief that we never had to experience that gut wrenching, sustained fight for life, and hopefully never will.
Today, Thursday 27th April, the same company is back at Upstairs at The Western with another production, Gratiano, an imagined sequel to Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
Both production continue to tour. Full details are at www.gristtheatre.co.uk/
Paul Towers: http://ptheatre.blogspot.co.uk/