Peter Frost recommends Regeneration, a dark vision of the psychological horrors endured by soldiers in WWI
Regeneration, Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Novelist Pat Barker won a Booker prize for The Ghost Road, the third book in her Regeneration trilogy set in the first world war.
Now Nicholas Wright has adapted the novels for the stage and the result is thought-provoking and disturbing.
Virtually all the action takes place in the Craiglockhart war hospital in Scotland — a sombre asylum for officers with shell-shock — in 1917.
Soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon (Tim Delap) has been sent there ostensibly because he is insane but in reality the War Office has put him away to discredit his anti-war poems and pronouncements.
Army psychiatrist Doctor William Rivers, beautifully played by Stephen Boxer (below), has the job of curing the shell-shocked officers, suffering from what is now understood to be post-traumatic stress disorder — or at least getting them fit enough to return to the trenches.
His sessions with Sassoon force him to consider the morality of what he is doing in the name of medicine. Some of the treatments employed are little short of torture.
We witness Sassoon and Wilfred Owen (Garmon Rhys) tussling over one of the latter’s poems — Anthem for Doomed Youth — before both men decide to return to the front.
Sassoon, Rivers and Owen are all drawn from history but the one individual who provides a more realistic view of the madness of war is the fictional character of grammar school boy Billy Prior (Jack Monaghan) from the “lower orders.”
A compelling look at the futility of war, the play is a reminder too that even in the horror of an asylum the officer class still get a round of golf in or take dinner at the Conservative club.
Sassoon, wounded by friendly fire, would live until the 1960s while Owen died exactly one week before the war ended.
His mother received the fateful telegram just as the church bells in her village started ringing out to celebrate victory.
A bitter irony, entirely in keeping with this commendable production.
Runs until September 20, box office: royalandderngate.co.uk, then tours nationwide.
This review appeared in the Morning Star 18 September 2014