Regeneration (Tour - Blackpool)
Flawless and unmissable, says Robin Duke about Regeneration at the Blackpool Grand until this weekend.
Adapting Pat Barker's 1991 Booker-nominated novel for the stage in this of all years, the centenary of the outbreak of World War One, carries with it certain extra responsibilities. Thankfully in the more than capable hands of Olivier award winning playwright (Vincent In Brixton and the National Theatre adaptation of His Dark Materials) and director Simon Godwin, this Touring Consortium Theatre and Royal & Derngate, Northampton co-production lives up to every expectation and all of the four and five star reviews its 11-venue debut tour has garnered prior to its last port of call in Blackpool.
Set in Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland in 1917, Alex Eales superbly functional Spartan set perfectly captures the part respite, part asylum nature of the place, a mood added to by Lee Curran's startling lighting and George Dennis's occasionally deafening sound.
Here well-established poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon has been institutionalised in an attempt to undermine his public disapproval of The War To End All Wars (the publication and reading in Parliament of Finished With War: A Soldier's Declaration had sent shock waves through the Establishment and could have seen him court martialled or executed).
Here also is the younger and convalescing Wilfred Owen, a still aspiring poet whose admiration, worship and perhaps even love of Sassoon is at the heart of the play – together with the many re-writes which resulted in the iconic poem Anthem For Doomed Youth. The pivot between them is Army Psychiatrist Dr William Rivers, who is tasked with returning shell shocked officers back to the trenches.
But he is increasingly tormented by the morality of what is being done in the name of medicine – and haunted by the almost brain washed manner which drives so many scarred minds back to the front to face almost certain death.
Tim Delap brings a genuine ambiguity to the character of Sassoon with his Coward-like smoking jacket and minor aristocratic manner. Garmon Rhys on the other hand is a far more sensitive, almost camp Owen.
Stephen Boxer's Dr Rivers is believably sympathetic – especially when contrasted to his London counterpart's theory that "the last thing these people need is a sympathetic audience."
But the scene stealer is Jack Monaghan as Billy Prior, the product of a Bradford education, shell shocked into mutism whose road to recovery treads a very different path. Class differences, and the vain hope that when the war is eventually over lessons will have been learned, are deftly woven into the story leaving the audience almost as shell shocked as its central characters.
Pat Barker's Regeneration runs at the Blackpool Grand until November 29.