This splendid, thought-provoking new play by Susan Watkins, directed by York Theatre Royal’s Artistic Director, Damian Cruden, focuses on Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon who worked to heal the psychological as well as physical injuries of young, badly-disfigured World War II pilots. Set on the hospital ward, this play is deeply moving, funny and romantic in turn, as intense despair and agony are often replaced with a renewed zest for life.
Graeme Hawley (The York Mystery Plays 2012, Coronation Street) depicts McIndoe as a complex, enigmatic man, while Stefano Braschi (Miranda) gives a subtle, moving performance as Rusty Rushford, a badly-injured airman who arrives on the ward in intense agony and despair, on whose story we focus. Fiona Dolman (Midsomer Murders) and Anna O’Grady (Holby City), as two very different nurses, add a strong female element, while the young pilots’ camaraderie and evolving fortunes to the ever-changing mood on the ward, as they recover their identity and face a new life.
This brave, gripping production, with Potteresque musical interludes from the period, reminds us of the immense bravery and sacrifice of soldiers everywhere, while also providing a gripping insight into the complex but ultimately life-affirming topic of serious disfigurement.
The Guinea Pig Club runs at York Theatre Royal until 27 October.