Battersea Arts Centre, 2 – 20 & 25 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

A charitable movie reviewer might describe Return as “beautifully shot”. It’s one of those low-budget British films so beloved of awards committees, in which nothing very much happens but every frame is painstakingly composed, every close-up and gradual fade-through-black marinaded in a rich sense of atmosphere and place.

Its saving grace – unless you enjoy that kind of film, if “enjoy” is the word – is that it’s communicated not via projector and silver screen, but by affable spoken-word artist Polarbear, who describes the shots, cuts and sets, and speaks the dialogue. Everything from the text to the staging is pared back to allow maximum space for imaginative interpretation and visualisation: this film is projected direct into our heads.

It’s at once a consummately individual and a community experience. Unlike in the cinema, every member of the audience “sees” a different product, tinting and skewing the skeletal structure Polarbear provides with their own memories and prejudices. But his screenplay-inspired language is inherently inclusive, dependent as is it on the pronoun “we”: “We start with a close-up”, “We zoom through the windscreen”.

Given all of the above, Return ought to be considerably more engrossing than it is. The problem is that the “film” itself is less interesting than the way it’s presented.

It concerns Noah, a young man who once ascribed all his problems to his location, subsequently escaped, and on returning finds himself appalled by how little has changed, but affronted by those things that have. Even though Noah’s experience is common and relatable, and his sniping, pop-culture-rich rapport with his college drop-out brother is warmly and incisively observed, having Polarbear narrate the film is still preferable to seeing it on screen. Return is, in other words, a successful spoken-word adaptation of a sadly unsuccessful film.

Written by Polarbear

Crew includes Yael Shavit (director/script development), Marie Blunck (designer) and Mark Howland (lighting)

Cast includes Polarbear

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