by Pat Barker adapted by Nicholas Wright.
Royal & Derngate/Touring Consortium Tour to 29 November 2014.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 October at Richmond Theatre.
Reliving the past with increasing impact.
There’s irony in the title of Pat Barker’s highly-rated 1991 novel (also the title of the fiction trilogy it begins). Regeneration is something positive, but in this First World War context it refers to patching-up soldiers whose nerves have been shattered in the trenches, so they can return to fight for king and country.
To which there’s another irony, for treatment at Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart hospital brought together, in 1917, a young officer keen to become a poet, Wilfred Owen, and established poet, soldier and enemy to the conflict Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon was neither German (he had a Wagner-loving mother), nor a pacifist. But he believed the war had moved from defence of liberty to a deliberately-prolonged act of aggression.
As Tim Delap’s smart, brisk Sassoon explains, publishing his views led not to a court-martial but discreet sending to Craiglockhart. The discussions the officers enjoy there contrast the treatment of other ranks.
Nicholas Wright’s adaptation moves beyond being a well-crafted cut-and-paste account of the events Barker describes, at the opening of the second act, where theatre’s ability to show rather than describe sees Stephen Boxer’s hard-worked yet humane medical officer distressed as he watches a fellow doctor apply electric shocks to a working-class soldier who cannot speak.
The scene could become exploitative without Simon Godwin’s tight direction, and Jack Monaghan’s concentration, all-too-human terror in anticipating pain, and subsequent agony, contrasted by Simon Coates’ doctor, Yelland, full of late-Victorian confidence and moral sternness accompanying his scientific administration of electric shocks from gleaming machinery.
Shocks occur throughout at the supposed recuperation-post out of battle, as shells and gunfire are heard, and as – borrowing a trick from Conor Macpherson’s Shining City – a reminder of mortality appears shockingly behind a door.
The Craiglockhart experience produces a sense of officer guilt in Rivers, whose medical skill feeds the human war-machine, and in Sassoon. It also shows the development of a poet in discussions of Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ – the usual choice, as the work-in-progress is well-documented – Garmon Rhys showing the pains of poetic creation added to those of warfare, before Owen, too, died “as cattle”.
Captain Rivers: Stephen Boxer.
Robert Graves: Christopher Brandon.
Anderson/Yealland: Simon Coates.
Siegfried Sassoon: Tim Delap.
Campbell: Joshua Higott.
Billy Prior/Evans: Jack Monaghan.
Cullen/Willard/Burns: David Morley Hale.
Wilfred Owen: Garmon Rhys.
Sister Rogers: Lindy Whiteford.
Nurse: Emma Tugman.
Orderlies: Daniel Cech-Lucas, Oliver Malam.
Director: Simon Godwin.
Designer: Alex Eales.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound: George Dennis.
Music: Stuart Earl.
Movement: Struan Leslie.
Illusions: Richard Pinner.
Assistant director: Alice Hamilton.