Nicholas Wright’s adaptation of Pat Barker’s Regeneration takes us into the dark, inner-workings of both the mind and the military hospital set up to either cure ‘Shell-shock’ or root out ‘cowardice’, writes Michael Holland.
High-ranking soldiers finding themselves shipped to Craiglockhart would enjoy the privacy of their own rooms and have pleasant chats over tea and cake with the medical staff as doctors tried to talk them back to good health, while lower ranks, who shared dormitories, suffered electric shock torture as a treatment.
The celebrated war poet, Siegfried Sassoon (Archie Moore) gets the full ‘talking cure’ off Dr Rivers(Will Forester), who draws heavily on Freud’s work in his therapy and who was visibly impressed when he discovered Sassoon had read Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams – in German. On the other hand, a soldier who wasn’t ‘quite one of us’ had his mouth and neck electrocuted to force him to come out of PTSD!
Rivers soon finds himself in a quandary. While he’s trying to convince these young men to go back to the trenches – where the average life span for an officer is three months – because they are his orders from above, he is slowly coming round to their way of thinking, that war is futile. As he tries to keep his superiors happy he becomes as anti-war as his patients.
Into the fray comes Wilfred Owen(Louis Raghunathan), a budding poet in awe of Sassoon. The pair, with their love of poetry, soon become friends.
The narrative is now, will the soldiers get well, will they get sent back to the fighting, will Siegfried and Wilfred kiss? We get a brief update on these questions at the end but when a play is condensed from a trilogy of books, it touches on much but focusses on little. Was Regeneration about the hospital, the poets, or just a vehicle to carry an anti-war message?
This is a long play with the cast of five intrepidly playing most of WWI’s walking wounded. The demands of learning a lot of lines for many different characters are difficult, but they did admirably well and made the two-hour production enjoyable rather than a battle.
For me, I came away with more insight into the mind of Dr Rivers, who sold his soul at the expense of young lives.
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH until 3 November 2021 at 7.30pm. Admission: £16, £14 conc.
Box office: www.brockleyjack.co.uk or 0333 666 3366 (£1.80 fee for phone bookings only)