Review- The Unknown Soldier- Stylus Production


By Christy Shapiro




Last night I was faced with an uncomfortable truth, the awkward reality of war that we often do not actualise outside of a news headline that we pass and ignore. Ignore, not out of lack of empathy but because it is merely uncomfortable.



Adam Harris as Sergeant Jack Vaughn in Stylus Productions’ staging of “The Unknown Soldier” accurately places this uncomfortable truth front and centre. Harris also plays Vaughn so heartbreakingly well that we collectively sighed, cried and squirmed at the sick condition of war. Or in this case, what happens after the war when soldiers are left behind to clean up body parts.



We walked into the sacred space of the theatre to a floor covered in 15,000 red poppies,  “a symbol of remembrance in the West”, and Songs From a Shropshire Lad and Folk Songs From Sussex which, as the company says in their Playbill, was composed by George Butterworth who was shot by a sniper in Somme and whose body was never recovered. 



Harris opens with a powerful monologue set in a French cottage in 1920; his West Country accent spot-on and unwavering on a minimal but highly effective set that takes the storytelling to the next level. The piece has just the right mixture of dark and light; Harris as Vaughn is sometimes telling us about shoes found with legs still protruding from them and the one time he needed to hide a leg under the poor soul’s kilt. It is what we do to hold on to some part of sanity, finding humour in the grotesque.



Harris speaks candidly with his departed friends, walking us through some of the times they had together, how they died and were buried and to a powerful effect. Friendship won and lost on the battlefield. Love won and lost. The sad fact of war; leaving behind love at home and only being honoured if you come back in a body bag. “We prefer dead heroes”. Indeed.



The sounds of war become unbearable at some point when the play crescendos and people are covering their ears, Harris as Vaughn too because it is too much to bear. It is uncomfortable.  But this is theatre, and this is why we go: Harris is standing on a chair bathed in a spotlight with sounds of shrapnel, and he is wailing to make it all stop. We are listening.



There are still two more opportunities to see this highly recommended piece.


For more information about The Unknown Soldier, click here. 

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