Regeneration

Nicholas Wright
Touring Consortium Theatre Company and Royal & Derngate Northampton
Richmond Theatre

Tim Delap as Sassoon and Garmon Rhys as Owen Credit: Manuel Harlan
Stephen Boxer as Captain Rivers Credit: Manuel Harlan
Tim Delap as Sassoon plus company Credit: Manuel Harlan

War psychological damage, anti-war sentiment, class, sexuality, love and most importantly guilt, are all serious themes in Pat Barker’s trilogy Regeneration, now adapted for the stage by Olivier Award-winning playwright Nicholas Wright and directed by Simon Godwin.

Produced by Touring Consortium Theatre Company and Royal & Derngate Northampton, this world première production, having toured across the UK after its first long run in Northampton, has landed at Richmond Theatre for its brief London stop.

The story is based on true events surrounding the first encounter between two celebrated war-poets, Siegfried Sassoon (Tim Delap) and Wilfred Owen (Garmon Rhys), at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland, a centre of rehabilitation for British officers suffering from shell shock during the First World War.

Siegfried has just avoided the court martial after his Finished with the war: a soldier’s declaration that condemned the war and its sufferings and is declared unfit for duty on the ground of mental instability. Owen is in treatment for shell shock having survived a serious explosion on the field.

It is also the story of Captain William Rivers (Stephen Boxer), the doctor who used psychoanalysis to cure his patients. Similar to the novel, this adaptation reveals the horrific marks imprinted in the officers’ minds through the very strong bonds that emerge in the unfolding of the narrative between the characters and especially between the doctor, father / mother figure in the process of recovery,and his patients.

Behind the discussion of the draft to the poem Anthem for Doomed Youth that will become emblematic of the First World War, backbone to both the play and the novel, it is the beauty and authenticity of these relations that draw us into the world of the production, where the stories of the other patients also emerge.

Amongst those, one should count that of the asthmatic Billy Prior (Jack Monaghan), the only grammar school northern officer in the hospital, who suffers from amnesia and mutism. It is in their conversations that we see the human, conflicted side of the thoughtful doctor, who patiently records his every thought and care about his patients and feels the guilt that his treatment will only send them back to the trenches.

The production is sleek, balanced and engaging. After introducing, in the first half, the characters and painting the situations with a good pace and due gravity, which is, however, never pathetic and never over-done, it is in the second half that all comes to fore, even with some humour, and we cannot but feel for the characters and their pains.

Apart from the brilliance of the original novel and the intelligent script, great awe cannot but be respectfully given to the subtle, careful directing by Godwin, as well as to the essential, functional set design by Alex Eales, the atmospheric lighting and sound—respectively by Lee Curran and by George Dennis—that echo and reflect on stage the torments of the soldiers.

And, obviously, to the bravura of the cast. Stephen Boxer is perfect as a passionately caring Captain Rivers, Tim Delap is a believable slightly arrogant and earnest Siegfried, Jack Monaghan is charming and sincere as young Billy.

And we cannot forget Garmon Rhys who excels in his subtle and effortlessly compelling portrayal of Wilfred Owen. He is a young new talent, just graduated from Lamda last summer, that I am sure we will see more often around.

"The war breeds a dark infection of guilt, which spreads from man to man like a disease. We can't escape it.", says Captain Rivers at the end of the play leaving the audience thinking about the horror of wars and the pain of unsung heroes.

Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli