The Return (2 stars)

The Return

credit: Ewen Weatherspoon

A rewrite of a famous film that does little to prove its necessity

Flirting with questions of identity and desire, Ellie Harrison's re-imagining of The Return of Martin Guerre rescues his wife from the background role that she was given in the film, with an energetic central performance from Emilie Patry. Homing in on a depiction of the relationship between a woman and the man who claims to be her long-lost husband Martin, the narrative focusses on their mundane arguments. Hampered by a fussy set design, The Return is a mixture of clever devices – as when Martin's young son's voice is represented by urgent cello notes – and repeated discussions about the couple's fear of exposure, with the wife's complicity in the deception explicit.

Unfortunately, The Return emphasises the telling of the story rather than using it as a springboard for a deeper reflection on identity. Both Martin and his wife Betrande worry about what will happen if the local people suspect that he is not who he claims to be: when he is finally arrested, there is a dynamic ambiguity about whether he might have been the husband all along, but this is squandered as an ironic twist. Betrande is pitched as independent, determined and brave and Harrison awards her the agency denied in the film, yet with a sparse plot, the characters under-developed, a first half that meanders around the story and the themes vague, The Return is a limited success at reinventing a familiar tale.

Traverse, Edinburgh 28 Feb–1 Mar, then touring

The Return

Inspired by the true story of Martin Guerre, The Return is a gripping play about the mystery of identity and the survival instinct, and asks whether we can ever truly know even those we love the best.