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The Unknown Soldier

Ross Ericson in The Unknown Soldier. Photo: Grist to the Mill Ross Ericson in The Unknown Soldier. Photo: Grist to the Mill

Writer-performer Ross Ericson finds a new way to address the moral obscenity that was the ordinary soldier’s experience of the First World War by giving voice to a figure little acknowledged in the history books, a member of the military brigade that stayed on in France and Belgium for several years after the Armistice to recover bodies and body parts, identify them if possible, and give them honourable burial or reburial.

The simple fact of his existence, with the reminder that the war wasn’t over when it was over, generates a powerful dramatic shock, as do both the horror stories he can tell and the casual way he can tell them.

As directed by Michelle Yim, Ericson’s sensitively controlled performance allows the man’s repressed pain and rage to slowly overpower his calm and reserve until a flashback to the madness of battle shatters any illusions of there being anything noble about fighting or dying for one’s country.

And yet Ericson’s vision is not entirely negative. The dramatic occasion for the speaker’s monologue is the assignment to select a body at random to be the Unknown Warrior buried in Westminster Abbey, and his way of doing the job demonstrates just where true honour and loyalty survived.

This is a simple piece, but one whose originality, sincerity and quietly powerful performance make it stand out.

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Strong writing, an original approach and a sensitive performance bring fresh power to a reminder of the horrors of war