Review: Regeneration

There is no theatre more appropriate for a production about the First World War poets and their experiences at the Craiglockhart Hospital than the King’s.

Tim Delap as Siegfried Sasoon. Pic: Comp

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The audience will be far more aware of the setting than those in Northampton and York, where Nicholas Wright’s adaptation of the Pat Barker novels has been staged before this Edinburgh run, and the jokes about the city – “Edinburgh? It’s full of old ladies and knitted jumpers” – go down well.

But the whole district is part of the setting; when the characters talk about going into town, the journey would be along streets which have hardly changed and right past the theatre which opened just eight years before hostilities broke out.

Although the personal and artistic relationship between poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon provides the structure, the central character is psychiatrist Captain Rivers whose then experimental therapies got traumatised men back on their feet.

Convincingly explored by Stephen Boxer, Rivers’ sensitivity and understanding combine with a tired acceptance of the contradiction in helping young officers recover so they can return to face almost certain death in France. Tim Delap is suitably arrogant as the established upper class writer Sassoon, while there is perhaps a little too much of Blackadder’s Lieutenant George in Garmon Rhys’ Grammar-schooled Owen in awe of meeting his inspiration in the flesh.

But star of the show is Jack Monaghan, whose laconic working-class Lieutenant Prior has most of the best lines as he rails against Captain Rivers’ approach to treatment.

Given the subject matter, it would have been easy to slip into cliché about the war or pretention about the art, but this production does neither. It takes no sides in the debate between the duty of the soldier to his comrades and the politics which sends them to war. The arguments about the origins and righteousness of Britain’s role are unlikely ever to be settled, so it is wise to do so.

Like the best war dramas, there is dark humour amidst the pain, cruelty and sadness and in this year of remembrance Regeneration makes a very valuable contribution.

• Run ends Saturday