Return to Guerre

Feb 27 2018 | By More

New take on Martin Guerre story

The fascinating and true story of 16th century French peasant Martin Guerre has a new telling from Ellie Stewart with The Return which is touring Scotland including a brief stay at the Traverse.

Guerre lived with his wife Bertrande and their child in the Pyrenees but abandoned them suddenly in 1548. Seven years later, a man turned up claiming to be him – and was accepted by Bertrande as her husband.

Greg Sinclair and Emilie Patry. Pic: Ewen Weatherspoon

Guerre’s story was made into a movie in 1982, Le Retour de Martin Guerre, directed by Daniel Vigne and starring Gérard Depardieu. While Schoenberg and Boublil, of Les Miserables fame, gave it the big musicals treatment with Martin Guerre in 1996.

In The Return, Stewart takes the focus away from the man who came back and instead tries to understand the woman who had been left. Having first heard Guerre’s story when she was in Toulouse about 25 years ago she became intrigued and says she loved the 1982 movie.

“I also thought that Bertrande doesn’t get much to say,” she told Æ. “I think I wanted to find out what happened if we gave Bertrande a voice.”

The production is partly set on the high slopes and passes of the Pyrenees, where Bertrande (Emilie Patry) takes her sheep out to pasture. It has a real feeling of remote mountain slopes about it, so it is unsurprising to learn ghat Stewart decided to write the piece because of personal experience of returning to the Pyrenees after many years and finding herself “bombarded by sensory memories”.

a series of fortunate events

“Feeling both changed and unchanged, it felt like everything was driving towards an exploration of this story,” she says. “So I was already working on the story when, through a series of fortunate events, the opportunity to produce it with Philip Howard and Eden Court came up.”

Thoren Ferguson  and Emilie Patry. Pic Ewen Weatherspoon

As a piece of theatre, the production uses differences in vocabulary and habitual attitude to explore the differences between Bertrande and the man who comes back. While his relationship with Bertrande’s son Sanxi provides a reference to the way that he becomes – or maybe remembers how to be – a father.

The story creates a wholly intriguing situation, one which changes even while you think about it, with its elements of recognition, of what it is that makes a person – both in themselves and in the eyes of those around them – and what the traits are that define you as being from some particular place.

“In terms of contemporary themes, audience members take different things from the telling of the story,” says Stewart. “Themes that come up in discussion are parenting, the plight of people seeking refuge and questions about language and identity.

“I think this retelling is an exploration of the emotional landscape; I draw on my own life experiences as well as the more ‘academic’ research. Hopefully this brings something visceral to the piece.”

live music

Part of the draw of the production is its use of live music. Cellist and composer Greg Sinclair performs the role Sanxi. Stewarts says that having him play music on the cello within the performance is a hugely important part of her telling of the story.

“From the blueprint of the script, the creative team has built a very textured piece” she explains. “This includes the direction, choreography, set, costume, lighting, props and the beautiful musical score. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think it’s quite a sensory experience for the audience.”

The music, Stewart adds, was part of the story from near the beginning of creating the play, with both Sinclair and director Philip Howard being involved when she workshopped the script early in 2017.

“At that point we were already alert to the possibility of music being part of the storytelling,” she says. “In every subsequent draft I left breathing space in the text for Greg’s remarkable work. During the rehearsal period it became a strong and vibrant thread.”


The Return
Traverse, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED. Phone booking: 0131 228 1404
Wednesday 28 February – Thursday 1 March 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details:

The Return on tour:
Wed 28 Feb – Thurs 1 Mar Edinburgh
Traverse Theatre
0131 228 1404 Book online
Fri 2 Mar New Deer
New Deer Public Hall
01771 644366 Book online
Sat 3 Mar Aberdeen
The Lemon Tree
01224 641122 Book online
Mon 5 Mar Ullapool
Macphail Centre
01854 613336 Book online
Wed 7 Mar. Lochcarron
Village Hall
Thurs 8 Mar Boat of Garten
Community Hall
01479 831123 Book online
Fri 9 Mar Braemar
Village Hall
01339 741220 Book online
Sat 10 Mar Alford
Tullynessle & Forbes Hall
Food for Thought
01771 644366
Book online


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