Regeneration – Review

Regeneration. Photos by Manuel Harlan.
Regeneration. Photos by Manuel Harlan.

Regeneration, from Pat Barker’s gripping trilogy, is one two plays opening this month dealing with the relationship between World War I poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.

It nipped under the wire at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate this week leaving Stephen MacDonald’s Not About Heroes to bring up the rear with a premiere at Craiglockhart Hospital, Edinburgh, on Monday.

Celebrated playwright, Nicholas Wright, has come up with a powerful and harrowing adaptation of Barker’s work.

The trilogy is a fictionalised account of Sassoon’s time at Craiglockhart and there are some shocking moments in the story.

Sassoon, one of this country’s greatest war poets, was a serving officer when, in 1917, he risked being shot for cowardice, for issuing a declaration demanding an end to the war.

Not wanting a scandal the powers-that-be declared that he was not in his right mind and suffering from shellshock.

He was sent to Craiglockhart, a nursing home for officers where they were treated, recovered and returned to The Front.

And it was here that a hesitant Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen knocked on his door and began a renowned friendship with the writer.

Pivotal to the story is another relationship, that of “Mad Jack” Sassoon and his psychiatrist William Rivers.

The charming Rivers, who suffered a lifelong stutter, worked hard to break down British Reserve get his patients to open up to him about their problems.

Stephen Boxer
Stephen Boxer

Through the course of the play we’re exposed to the horrors of war that have left terrible scars on its men.

It makes for traumatic listening. One man woke in a trench to find his face buried in the entrails of a corpse and now can’t swallow food; another is consumed by guilt because two of his men were blown up in front of him.

Director Simon Godwin has assembled a top drawer cast led by the superb Stephen Boxer as the committed and compassionate Rivers.

There’s an outstanding turn by Jack Monaghan as a bolshy, blunt Bradford clerk, Billy Prior, who unaccountably, finds himself among the Toffs as an officer.

Tim Delap is perfect officer material. He is the epitome of English restraint as the complex Sassoon.

The poet makes the unlikeliest of rabble-rousers. He bravely went into battle armed with words that spoke a passionate appeal for peace, knowing he risked his life.

Garmon Rhys plays the modest Owen as a star-struck writer desperate to emulate his hero, Sassoon.

The unmissable Regeneration runs at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate until September 20 before touring.

Tour dates:

September 23-27, Theatre Royal, York
September 30-October 4, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
October 7-11, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
October 14-18, Theatre Royal, Nottingham
October 21-25, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
October 27-November 1, Richmond Theatre, London
November 4-8, Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
November 11-15, Civic Theatre, Darlington
November 18-22, The Playhouse, Oxford
November 25-29, Blackpool Grand Theatre, Blackpool.

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