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Regeneration by Pat Barker at the Jack Studio Theatre

Pat Barker’s 1991 novel Regeneration was not only the first of a prize-winning trilogy, but it was also nominated for a Booker prize. In 2014 Nicholas Wright successfully adapted it for the stage with a cast of eight males plus one female and it achieved a highly successful national tour.

Regeneration by Pat BarkerIt offers a “Powerful Anthem for the youth of World War One and a compassionate look at war and its devastating effects” (from the publisher). It takes place in Craiglockhart Hospital in 1917, where Siegfried Sassoon meets and becomes friends with Wilfred Owen. The Army Psychiatrist, Dr William Rivers, has been tasked with returning shell-shocked officers to the trenches…

The play itself is well constructed, easily making one forget its origins, and, at times, such as the epilogue in which Rivers and Sassoon meet after the war, is very poignant. The direction (Oliver McFadden) makes the most of this, letting the play speak for itself without interference and ensuring that its many scenes flow smoothly into each other, using a simple set (Layla Bradbeer) and basic furniture which the actors themselves quickly position.

As Dr Rivers, Will Forester is superb: he has that rare quality of stillness and is totally believable. We empathise with the decisions he has to make and feel his pain as he tries to help those who are put under his care. He seems to have endless compassion and patience and the production is at its strongest whenever he is on stage. The play is well worth catching for his performance alone.

Archie Moore as Siegfried Sassoon enables the audience to see the passion in his soul and his inability to comprehend why Germany and Britain cannot just sit down and talk, instead of wasting men’s lives. His most involving scenes are with Rivers, the two officers building up a true rapport and eventually friendship.

Wilfred Owen’s role seems not as fully developed as those already mentioned, but Louis Raghunathan is the very epitome of the young poet, eager for Sassoon’s encouragement, and also eager to go out to the ‘front’ again. The first scene with Sassoon, where he first shows him an early poem, is amusing and at the same time, moving, a tribute to the writing, acting and direction.

Chloe Taplin and Sara Odeen-Isbister play all the other male and female roles.

In short: an excellent play, very involving, with three first-rate performances, even if whoever was in charge of props should have known that the tape recorder was not invented until c1930! Jack Studio Theatre is one of the most comfortable (padded seats with armrests instead of the usual benches!) and welcoming fringe theatres I have come across in London and is only 15 minutes by train from London Blackfriars or London Bridge – well worth visiting for this particular play.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

I realised that somewhere in the back of their tiny minds they really do think the war will end in an almighty cavalry charge.

Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917.
The Great War rages in Europe and Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon is hospitalised against his will with shell-shock. Sassoon denies being ill but Dr Rivers soon discovers Siegfried is a haunted man. Slipping into solitude, Sassoon takes comfort in the lively company of the handsome officer Wilfred Owen, but mentorship soon sparks something more between the closeted young poets.

Elsewhere in the hospital, officers loudly berate a military leadership of out-of-touch toffs and demand experimental treatments to get them back to The Front. Above it all the stoic Dr Rivers, an early pioneer of talking therapy, struggles to reconcile his Hippocratic Oath with his duty to King and Country.

Regeneration is a shocking, energetic, feast of a play based on the true story of Craiglockhart War Hospital and the courageous dissidents, vibrant poets, and patriotic gay lovers who walked its wards.

Adapted by Olivier Award-winning playwright Nicholas Wright from the Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name by Pat Barker, this play returns to the London stage for the first time since its debut and is directed by Oliver McFadden.

The Company
Directed by Oliver McFadden
Produced by Olivia Burgin
Set and Costume Design by Layla Bradbeer
Sound Design by Ali Taie
Stage Manager Anna Eagle
Lighting Programmer Charli Hurford
Artwork by William Lloyd

The Cast
Archie Moore as Siegfried Sassoon
Chloe Taplin as Billy Prior / Robert Graves / Major Willard
Louis Raghunathan as Wilfred Owen / Captain Anderson / Callan / The Ghost
Sara Odeen-Isbister as Sister Rogers / Dr Yealland / Major Campbell / The Waiter
Will Forester as Dr. William Rivers / Captain Burns

by Pat Barker
adapted for the stage by Nicholas Wright
produced by Acting Out Again Productions

Tuesday 26 October – Saturday 13 November 2021


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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