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Review of Regeneration at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Regeneration, adapted for the stage by Nicholas Wright, forms the final and centrepiece of the Royal & Derngate's programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Based on Pat Barker's 1991 novel, it tells the story of several characters experiences in Craiglockhart Hospital following being immobilised for various reasons from the trenches. Among these are notable real-life characters such as the highly decorated war poet Siegfried Sassoon, his doctor Captain Rivers and Sassoon's fellow poet Wilfred Owen.

Of these three characters, Stephen Boxer as Rivers is by far the stronger performance, giving a sentimental and caring portrayal with more than a hint of humour in his delivery. As Sassoon and Owen, Tim Delap and Garmon Rhys respectively, they have less to do in their somewhat and surprising one dimensional characters on stage. They only really feel solid characters when they are together on stage, particularly in that first meeting in Sassoon's room. Perhaps however this could be the point as with their burgeoning and obvious would be romance, they feel whole only when together.

Throughout the play, it is quite clear who really is the main character and that is the fictional Billy Prior, played to perfection by Jack Monaghan. The scenes he is in are generally the best and when on stage with Boxer, the stakes rise higher. The hypnosis scene in particular is for me unquestionably the best of the play. However this then highlights for me one of the greater negatives of the whole adaptation, the total removal of the character of Prior's love interest Sarah Lumb. A mere mention relating to a train outing is all we get of the character and it is a great disappoint that those excellent scenes in the novel are missing. Indeed with the exception of Sister Rogers (Lindy Whiteford) and one nameless and wordless female nurse, there are no female characters. A great shame and following the previous all-male Dealer's Choice, an uncomfortable follow-up for the Made In Northampton productions. Thankfully Cat On A Hot Tin Roof will clearly remedy that.

While I am on the negatives (and I honestly do not wish to dwell on these as I did enjoy the play), the unusually placed electroshock therapy scene shifts dramatically from the end of the book into the middle ground and simply doesn't work. Poorly staged and with little danger or indeed, shock. The scene loses all the impact that it really should have had.

However enough of the negatives as I really did happily enjoy the play, performances were strong throughout with what their characters allowed and the stage set from designer Alex Eales was bold and clever, with the exception and some wayward and tricky doors to come over. Indeed the set provided that most excellent shock moment straight out of Headlong's production of 1984 for quick stage work and had a suitable number of gasps from the audience. Simon Godwin's direction is also solid with generally well staged switching between scenes (of which there are many) which are rarely jarring.

So overall a quality, if somewhat abbreviated production of the novel which without doubt I would recommend anyone seeing as it once again gives us that real need to remember the troubling times that these soldiers sadly had to experience.

Rating 3.5/5 - A timely and powerful production.

Performance reviewed: Wednesday 3rd September, 2014 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

Regeneration is on at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 20th September, 2014 before touring. Details here: http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/whatson/2014-2015/Royal/Regeneration/?view=Standard

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