Regeneration – Review – Bradford Alhambra
Regeneration – Review
Bradford Alhambra, October 2014
by Sandra Callard
Pat Barker’s highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, the third of which, The Ghost Road, won the Booker Prize in 1995, has been adapted for the stage by Nicholas Wright and is directed by Simon Goodwin. A daunting task indeed for them both to compress into two hours the message from three books and communicate this to an audience who may not have read them.
The evening begins auspiciously at the Bradford Alhambra as the strains of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ ring out. A group of young singers deliver the rendition in the bar – a nice touch as we prepare for the opening night of this new production.
The play is set in Craiglockhart Hydropathic Hospital near Edinburgh. Here traumatised soldiers suffering from varying degrees of shell shock are taken for treatment. Amongst the patients are those who later become known as the War Poets, namely Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves.
Sassoon writes a letter entitled ‘Finished with the War: a Soldier’s Declaration’. He sends it to the press and it is subsequently read out in Parliament. He refuses to return to the front and a court-martial is on the cards. Instead, the declaration is unfit for duty. He is duly sent to Craiglockhart for treatment. There he meets Wilfred Owen, an avid admirer of Sassoon, and a budding poet himself. Sassoon gives his advice on Owen’s poetry. This results in Owen’s shattering and world renowned 14-line poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.
“His horror is overpowering”
Pertinent to the recovery of the men at Craiglockhart is Captain Rivers. Stephen Boxer elegantly and sympathetically takes the role. He is an enlightened and humane doctor who is concerned by the prevailing treatments for shell shock, particularly electric shock treatment. Rivers prefers to use psychoanalysis, encouraging patients to talk about their emotions instead of using the stiff upper lip syndrome prevalent at the time. His treatment helps a young Yorkshire soldier, Billy Prior, played by Jack Monaghan. It allows him to spill out his emotions, which range from horror and revulsion to an unexpected exhilaration and joy of war.
Monaghan tackles this complex mix of emotions well. He engenders our sympathy and understanding. Sassoon also admits to moments of sheer happiness during the fighting. Even though his horror is also overpowering. Tim Delap plays Sassoon with an intellectual and careless air. His interaction with Owen, engagingly played by Garmon Rhys, is well defined as they discuss the merits of particular words in Owen’s Anthem.
“Unpalatable to modern eyes”
The sets here are stark and easily interchangeable. The sudden bursts of gunfire, shelling and stabbing strobes of light are very effective. They indicate the flashbacks of the patients as they suffer hallucinations and horrific remembrances of war.
This production is a very brave attempt at an extremely challenging concept. But I do feel that it was slightly prosaic and stagey. At times my attention wavers. In this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, we have become used to the various media offerings regarding this event. They vary in both quality and content. Each attempts to show the conflict from a different angle. This production of Regeneration offers new and surprising thoughts on the War. Some of which are unpalatable to modern eyes, but which are nevertheless honest and human.