Adapted from Pat Barker’s novel of the same title, Regeneration depicts the interactions between shell-shocked patients in Craiglockhart War Hospital, notably featuring the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Though it grapples with sombre subject matter, especially post-war mental trauma, the high energy of the cast is palpable even before the show begins.
The performance is set in the Hild Bede Chapel, which functions as a highly effective performance space, both visually and acoustically. While I was initially skeptical about the acoustics of the chapel, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the performance space enhances them. When the actors march towards the audience in a rectangular formation, they powerfully occupy a significant proportion of the space, and the synchronised rhythm of their steps comes to the fore. As four actors stand in all corners of the chapel interrogating Siegfried Sassoon, their dialogue reverberates throughout the room, rendering the opening scene more poignant and emotionally resonant. Furthermore, the openness of the space enables actors to move fluidly between pews, facilitating the intense audience interaction towards the end of the play during Billy Prior’s soliloquy. It was wonderful to see Daniel Vilela bringing his character to life in an emotionally charged and painful scene: as he experiences his most recent flashback, he literally leaps across the pews, closely showing the audience what he is feeling.
From the early scenes of the play, even the smallest details are highly commendable. While waiting in between scenes, the actors sit in the pews near the back of the chapel, thus making the audience feel like a part of the action. Notably, the use of props is minimal but successful: in almost all scenes, the hospital bed and wheelchair lurk in the background, reminding us of how instrumental recovery is to the traumatic violence of the First World War.
When portraying mental trauma, visceral flashbacks, and psychological abuse onstage, it is imperative that directors ensure that the performance is nuanced and effective, which this production manages to achieve. The strong stage presence and physicality of Anderson (Alana Mann) and Burns (Sammy French) powerfully instill shock and fear in the audience. Moreover, the cruelty of Dr. Yealland (Tom Pyle) to Callan (Marie McGovern) is chilling and brutal, in part due to the synchronicity of the screeching violins and each round of electro-shock therapy.
The emotional range of the play is wide but not lacking in depth, and this can be attributed to the high quality of acting. Oscar Nicholson as Siegfried Sassoon, and Harrison Newsham as Wilfred Owen must be praised for their vivid, multi-faceted portrayal of the unique relationship between the two poets as Sassoon guides Owen’s composition of ‘Anthem of Doomed Youth’, and Owen matures as a poet and a soldier. Beyond this, the variety of emotions, including the stoicism of Dr. Rivers (Ned Vessey) and the humorous facial expressions of Campbell (Grace Brimacombe-Rand) are brought to life by their respective actors.
While some may find the play’s ending underwhelming compared to the rest of the action, I believe that in some ways, the reflection and meditation that characterise the ending are thematically important, reminding us that the act of memory, though it can be marred by violence and pain, is also a vital stage of regeneration. Overall, the excellent use of performance space and emotional depth of the characters ensure that this performance is bound to exceed already high expectations.