I was utterly engaged in this play from the first page, possibly because of a personal connection with the subject matter.
The Return is set on a train. Two recently released crims are on the last train to Fremantle and are making the carriage their own when a young woman gets on and becomes the focus of their games and intimidation. I thought the set up, the pace, the dialogue and the characters were brilliant. But, for me, the play faltered in the second half soon after the introduction of two other passengers and the subsequent plot twists and turns.
The play goes from something that is gritty, believable and gripping to something outlandish and, for me, disappointing. I wanted to see the situation play out in the heightened but realistic way it had started, rather than becoming self referential and too clever.
There are some gorgeous lines, like in the opening voice over: “Long ago, when summer couldn’t kill you, I would peel the burnt skin off my body and throw it into the wind like an offering.”
Cribb makes the ‘thugs’ (his word, not mine) three-dimensional people, especially Steve.
STEVE: Now I know who you remind me of. My grandmother as a young woman. I mean she was absolutely beautiful. Ava Gardner, I’m not kidding. Her son was a waste of space. So was his wife. But she was noble, proud, beautiful. I know nothin’ about my family before her. It’s like we just crawled up outta the gutter and began.
I loved the older woman who gets on the train and stands up for the young girl. The world needs more people like Maureen:
MAUREEN: This sort of shit goes on every night on these trains and no one ever does anything about it. No one ever steps in to help. It’s like that footage they kept playing on the news over and over again, of that poor bastard getting the bejesus kicked out of him on the train. Everyone just walked past it. Right on past it. […] Well, I’ve had enough of it.
My connection with the story? I was 18 and visiting London. My aunt took me to the opera and I was getting a late train back to the house where I was staying. I had no idea it was FA Cup Final night. Not a night to be a young girl on your own on the train, dressed in your best opera-going clothes, with no phone or friend. It could be the start of a play, but Reg Cribb has captured the setting so well in The Return, I don’t think we need a reprise. Specially not without a Maureen to save the day, or, at least, give it a red hot go.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 3M, 2F