PAT Barker’s Booker Prize-nominated Regeneration is one of the greatest novels about the First World War. The powerful first part of the Regeneration trilogy, partly based on real events, the novel has been adapted as a play, which is being performed by Yeovil’s Swan Theatre Company, from 11th to 16th November.
Adapted by Nicholas Wright and premiered in 2014 at the Royal and Derngate Theatre at Northampton, the play is described as a “powerful anthem for the youth of World War One that offers a compassionate look at war and its devastating effects.”
It is set at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh in 1917. The poet Siegfried Sassoon, having published his anti-war declaration, has been sent to the hospital for the convenience of the army. Here he meets Wilfred Owen and an intense friendship ensues.
Captain Rivers, the Chief Medical Officer at the hospital, is faced with a stream of shell-shocked soldiers whom he must make well again – for them to be sent back to the front.
Director Mark Payne says: “This is my third foray into plays of the First World War, having previously directed Journey’s End and My Boy Jack. It seems to be a fascination I can’t escape.
“I first read Pat Barker’s novel some years ago and it has remained with me ever since. My grandfather was a medical orderly in the First World War, but when I was young I wasn’t interested enough to ask him about his experiences. And he never volunteered information about it.
“Unlike the medics in Regeneration, he was at the front – and one can scarcely imagine the horrors he witnessed. It is perhaps this personal connection and maybe even an enduring sense of guilt that I never appreciated what my grandfather did, that attracted me once again to the topic of the ‘war to end all wars.’
“Except of course it wasn’t. War continues to rage in many places across the planet, devastating lives and resulting in traumatised and shell-shocked victims – amongst civilians and children too. Even in the West this seems to be an era of uncertainty, where the accepted liberal democracies are threatened by extreme forces on many sides. It is almost as if we have forgotten the lessons of the past. As the men who lived through it have passed on, we have become complacent, taking our security and our international friendships and alliances for granted.
“I therefore present this play in remembrance. Not in remembrance of the disastrous policies of the governments of Europe who put conquest and power above the lives of their citizens, but in remembrance of the individual men and women who lost their lives, and for the men and women who survived but lived, like my grandfather, with horror locked inside their heads. We owe it to them to remember the lessons of history, and to never let the politics of separation, isolation and division take hold again.”
The Swan cast is led by Robert Graydon as Dr Rivers and Liam Evans as Siegfried Sassoon.