Living in the UK, we forget how comfortably we have been brought up. This island, whilst small, has survived surrounded by water under the same occupancy for hundreds of years, and aside from some coastal erosion there is little we can complain about. However, some countries across Europe and the rest of the world have evolved through wars, rebellions and long-lasting feuds. In comparison to the rest of Europe, we have recently lived a carefree existence in England.

This essence of change, of countries at war and people uprooted and changing nationality, is at the heart of Trestle Unmasked’s (formally Trestle Theatre) production The Man With The Luggage. Directed by Oliver Jone of Blind Eye and written by Lizzie Nunnery, this ensemble physical theatre piece takes inspiration from Eugene Ionesco’s play of the same title but re-imagines the context and imaginative element of a European country at war. Damir (Nicholas Tizzard) is attempting to travel back to his homeland to be with his wife, Ema (Nicole Lewis) after nine years apart. As Damir travels by any means possible, he faces the challenges that any person endures when returning to a country that has been through war. His identity is questioned, what was once his land has been given over to new owners, he is lost and dazed, a refugee struggling to find his way home.

The premise of this re-imagining of Ionesco’s 1975 play is a bold and adventurous plunge into the unknown. Like Damir, we wander bewildered on this journey and attempt to string together the episodic narratives and situations that are presented to us. It is a difficult piece to feel connected to, and whilst only 70 minutes, it takes a large proportion of this time to feel the rhythm. Nunnery’s text produces countless scenes and characters that Lewis and John Cockerill, who completes the cast, have to conjure up continuously – no easy feat. This episodic structure might reflect Ionesco’s original play, but I worry that with only Tizzard as the central continuous character to connect emotionally with, as an audience we might just yearn for more.

It can be said that the cast are strong and handle Jone’s direction with force, but the overall production suffers from the ambigility of the through-line of the piece. Naturally we lean towards Damir as we follow him on his journey, and we experience as he does the constant changing of language, land and people. However what is crucial is for us to feel connected, to gauge the emotional extent of what it must be like for a man to travel across land in search for his loved one, to his place of birth and upbringing. Like the island we live on now, The Man with the Luggage is too comfortable and lacks the edgy danger that one goes through when their home is taken from them. The piece feels as if it is us happy English folk attempting to dramatise the suffering of our European neighbours, and one that for me, fails to ignite beyond the surface of physical playing.

Having said this, The Man with the Luggage does have a strong physical metaphor displayed throughout the piece and inherent in the title itself. As Tizzard portrays Damir searching for home, the physical luggage he carries from the start of the piece begin to fall away, lost, discarded or taken from him. Whilst the use of suitcases makes any seasoned divised theatre-goer groan with the obvious cliche, Jone’s metaphor seems to work nicely. Naturally Anoushka Athique’s design for the production is flexible for touring purposes, but she captures a playful element from Jone’s direction and works this well into the transformative set pieces.

Trestle has, for a long time, been attempting to establish its new playing ground for work, and with each production that moves it further away from its founding masks, I begin to see the glimmer of excitement that comes from a company exploring new directions. The Man with the Luggage doesn’t quite capture the emotional purpose of the narrative as it should do, but it does give a glimpse of what a company focused on physical exploration of theatre can begin to unearth. That, and the fact that it has some blooming, talented cast members helps to ease the production through its 70 minute running time.

The Man with the Luggage is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 8th October before going on Tour. For further information see Trestle Theatre’s website.