Time Out Review of The Living Unkown Soldier

There can be few plays in which you learn as little about the main protagonist as in ‘The Living Unknown Soldier’. There’s a good reason for that: namely, the ‘hero’, a French soldier returning from the front in 1918, has lost his memory and remains ‘trapped in a no-man’s-land between life and death’, shorn of both name and personal history. As time goes on – the passing years are chalked up on a war memorial at the back of the playing space – a parade of would-be friends and family members lay claim to him. ‘I’m like an innocent you’re all trying to pin a crime on,’ exclaims the largely silent character – variously referred to as Albert/ Anthelme Mangin/Monjoin – who sits at the shadowy heart of this true story.

The opening scene, in which the doctor responsible for Albert/ Anthelme delivers a short but eloquent lecture on the fine line that separates imagination from memory, is reminiscent of Complicite’s ‘Mnemonic’. Simple8 director Sebastian Armesto displays plenty of invention and flair, delivering a fluid spectacle that poignantly evokes the lasting and universal traumas of war.

It’s not perfect. The early asylum sequences could do with a little tightening, and then there’s the inherent dramatic problem posed by having a hero who has no name or detectable personality. It’s a difficulty that’s further aggravated here by the decision to have Albert/Anthelme played by different actors. But that doesn’t stop this from being one show about amnesia that’s paradoxically highly memorable.