King’s Theatre – Run Ended
“I wish they’d killed you in a decent show.”
Thus ends “To Any Dead Officer,” a poem by the famous British World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon. In Regeneration, writer Pat Barker depicts Sassoon’s time in the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, where the army sends him after a denunciation he made in The Times on the war aims. While at the hospital, Sassoon befriends Wilfred Owen. Through their interactions, and the stories of various other patients in the ward, Barker creates a dramatic and often moving exploration of trauma, memory, and courage.
The actor who played Sassoon himself was rather disappointing at times in his failure to display much emotion or vary the intonation of his lines. His performance was, however, compensated for by the acting of Stephen Boxer, who played psychiatrist, Dr W.H. Rivers. Rivers was an innovative psychiatrist for the time, treating his patients kindly where other psychiatrists would use harsher tactics, demonstrated in a rather disturbing scene of the play. Boxer captured the clash between Rivers’ dedication to professional demeanour and his personal attachment to his patients with grace and depth.
Jack Monaghan, who played Billy Prior, deserves mention for his performance. Initially, the Bradford accent Monaghan adopted seemed a bit over the top and affected, but as the play wore on his voice became a more natural extension of his person, and the emotion with which he played his role gave particular poignancy to one of the last scenes, where Prior decides to enlist to go back to war in France.
The set also aided the play’s aims. The minimalist composition of the stage lifted up the acting and conveyed the psychiatric unit setting convincingly. The white-washed walls which covered the King’s Theatre’s stage reflected the harsh reality for the men during the First World War who found themselves in hospitals like Craiglockhart after suffering shell shock and various other illnesses. The slick transitions throughout the play allowed the performance to continue effortlessly, as the one room was used for multiple scenarios. The music also complimented the dramatic shifts in lighting, which portrayed the traumatic, often haunting, memories that the soldiers were reliving and unable to escape from. Great attention had been paid to the authenticity of the costume design for each of the characters, thus giving the play an even greater sense of reality and emotion as the audience followed the lives of these real men who fought during World War I.
Regeneration comes at a poignant moment in British history as 2014 is the centenary of the beginning of World War I. It conveyed itself to be an emotional journey of two of Britain’s most renowned war poets, particularly Owen, who only found acclaim following his untimely death a week prior to the armistice.