Review: Regeneration (Touring Consortium Theatre Company)

 Cheltenham Everyman Theatre

“It’s a strange kind of healing that I do, getting men well enough to go back to a place where such vile things can happen to them. The ambiguity of my job.”

Nicholas Wright’s stage adaptation of Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, directed by Simon Godwin, is a production to be admired. The Touring Consortium Theatre Company produce a brilliant impassioned drama about the Great War, focussing on the psychological effects of those having been injured on the front-line.

Three years into the First World War, the stage presents Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, although sometimes transporting us to some select locations around the country, the interior of the hospital remains the prominent feature, occasionally taking the viewer outside. Alex Eales’ design, in collaboration with Richard Pinner and Lee Curran’s lighting, is exquisite. Curran’s lighting blends perfectly with the scenery and subtly transforms each scene with a wash of colour, whether that be to give focus to specific points on stage, or to abruptly transport the happenings on stage to another time and place; another violent memory. These intermittent flashbacks add even more energy and pathos to this dynamic dialogue-driven play.

Fluidity in scene changes is aided by three-quarters of the rear wall in the set; the main door in the centre, either side of which essentially a large concertina, which could open to create more space, or close with just the aforementioned main door then in use. It was clear that every actor, even when not performing, was utilised in these scene changes.

Stuart Earl’s animated score resounds through the auditorium during scene changes, and further delight is found when the spectator tunes into the diegetic noise of footfall in the unseen corridors of the hospital; nurses wending their way here and there to visit the patients.

Godwin’s very visual storytelling often makes use of prominent shadows, emphasising elements of a scene, almost as though there were another presence in the room. This haunting nature becomes strikingly significant towards the end of the first half of the play when the adept writing of Wright artfully alters genre; what was drama is now horror. Tension builds with the distant screams of disturbed soldiers and the previously heard sound of the nurses’ footfall now becoming frantic as they rush to the patients’ bedsides.

The second act reverts to the familiar territory in its highly intuitive storytelling; the drama continues and this time with more frequent scene changes as the story progresses. We have been following the story of Captain Rivers, played by Stephen Boxer, and the relationship with his patients, particularly Siegfried Sassoon and Billy Prior, played by Tim Delap and Jack Monaghan respectively, and Sassoon’s relationship with fellow poet Wilfred Owen, played by Garmon Rhys. A sterling cast that also includes Christopher Brandon, Simon Coates, Joshua Higgott, David Morley Hale, Lindy Whiteford, Emma Tugman, Daniel Cech-Luca and Oliver Malam.

Poetry plays a extraordinary element in the reality of the World War One setting and its intention being both for escapism and for expression relating to the brutal conflict these men have experienced. The recurrence and development of one particular line, “What minute-bells for these who die so fast?” Contributes to the inevitable emotion experienced as the play approaches its end.

The Touring Consortium Theatre Company’s production of Regeneration was adapted for the stage by Nicholas Wright and directed by Simon Godwin, in association with the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, and is touring the UK until the end of November 2014.

TJM

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