Regeneration by Touring Consortium Theatre Company
York Theatre Royal, September 23
As I sit down to watch Regeneration I am sceptical. I can’t see Pat Barker’s novel being translated into a stage play. But such doubts evaporate soon after the play begins.
Fast paced, witty and filled with sharp dialogue, the production is the opposite of what I’d anticipated and what’s more, a large percentage of the lines have been taken directly from the book itself.
Set in 1917, it tells the story of Siegfried Sassoon’s meeting with his fellow poet Wilfred Owen in Craiglockhart War Hospital, and their relationship with the man charged with getting them fit enough to return to the hell of the First World War trenches, Dr William Rivers.
Every player in the small cast gave a wonderful performance. Stephen Boxer does a brilliant job at encompassing the Capt Rivers we all envisioned when reading the book.
He manages to purvey a perfect mix of professional, strong and caring – and his chemistry with the other characters, especially Sassoon and Prior – is riveting.
Tim Delap as Siegfried Sassoon is perhaps a more difficult character to connect to – someone who seems far too together, despite what he has been through.
His relationship with Wilfred Owen is what brings out his humanity at the end, when he reveals his feelings of responsibility for past events.
Jack Monaghan as Billy Prior stands out: both funny and striking with his working class eloquence and obvious youth.
Images from the show by Manuel Harlan. Click for more
Although broken and insecure, Wilfred Owen is played with so much unapologetic positivity by Garmon Rhys you can’t help but like him.
The drama is set against a minimalist backdrop, all clean white walls with no colour or decoration – which in a bizarre way completely works.
The homeliness of Dr Rivers’ desk and chairs with the patterned upholstery contrasts with the clinical nature of the set. This makes what could be a cold, distant scene into something tangible and real.
Lee Curran’s clever lighting design creates multiple shadows behind the actors, adding to our sense of foreboding, while the shape of an unseen window on the bed of another patient really helped suspend disbelief.
The sound, by George Dennis, was subtle in some places and obvious in others.
When a character had a waking nightmare or a hallucination there was rapid gunfire or exploding bombs and strobe lighting to help you imagine what they are experiencing.
By contrast there is the twitter of birds and soft lighting to place the characters outside. Or a muttering of voices and feet that suggest an underlying tension or a repressed memory.
So you feel safe in the quiet walls of Craiglockheart hospital before being suddenly transported to the trauma of the front line in a bombardment of noise and flashing lights – only to return, like the characters on stage, disorientated, shaken, waiting for Dr Rivers to sort everything out.
Director Simon Godwin has brought all these diverse elements together in Regeneration to create a powerful portrait of the mental cost of a terrible war, conveyed with both sensitivity and grace.
Regeneration is at York Theatre Royal until Saturday, September 27
For more information and tickets, see the theatre website