A timely revival indeed in the run up to Armistice Day, Oliver McFadden’s effective production is well performed and packs a powerful punch. The gender blind casting – two of the five strong cast are women – takes a little time to become accustomed to but Chloe Taplin’s performance as the working class officer Billy Prior being treated at the Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh is so good that she simply becomes Billy, a man with a chip on his shoulder. The central character is Sigfried Sassoon (Archie Moore) whose Mad Jack outbursts about the folly of the war ended up with his being sent there to be “cured” – officers were treated rather better than the men who, for what he had done, would have been court martialled and shot as deserters.
Sassoon found in Dr William Rivers, who ran the hospital, a man who understood about how war could affect soldiers. Nobody had any conception of post traumatic stress at the time. The generals certainly did not, and pretty well most of the country simply parroted clichés, sang dreadful patriotic songs about our brave lads fighting for King and Country and had no idea of the hell of the trenches. Moore has the right edge of upper class security for Sassoon, although Jewish he was a well known poet and a gentleman which, with a little help from his friend Robert Graves, ensured he was sent to Craiglockhart. Will Forester creates a sympathetic Rivers, a man deeply troubled by how these soldiers home from the front were being treated, and it seems as gay as at least two of his patients. The friendship between Sassoon and Wilfred Owen was formed at Craiglockhart and Louis Raghunathan creates a coltish hero-worshipper who adores Sassoon and who was to die on the battlefield. That leaves Sara Odeen-Isbister who gets to play several male and female roles and does a terrifying Dr Yealland who treated his patients with electric shocks and brutality in order to get them back to the Front.
It is a play to make one remember in these global Britain times about the follies of that war led by donkeys. Barker’s novel was very well filmed in 1997 by director Gllies MacKinnon with a cast that included Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby and Dougray Scott. Alan Scott’s script is different from the play devised by Nicholas Wright but the essential story is the same and both should send you back to the book.
Archie Moore: Siegfried Sassoon.
Chloe Taplin: Billy Prior/Robert Graves/Major Willard.
Louis Raghunathan: Wilfred Owen/ Captain Anderson/ Callan/ Th Ghost.
Sara Odeen-Isbister: Sister Rogers/Dr Yealland/Major Camobell/The Waiter.
Will Forester: Dr William Rivers/Captain Burns.
Director: Oliver McFadden.
Set & Costume Design: Layla Bradbeer.
Sound Design: Ali Tale.
Lighting Programmer: Charli Hurford.
Production Photographs: The Round Pixel @theroundpixel