THE stage of the King’s has been transformed into Craiglockhart War Hospital, this week, where poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon has been institutionalised in an attempt to undermine his public disapproval of the war.
The year is 1917 and his army psychiatrist, Dr William Rivers, has been tasked with returning shell-shocked officers to the trenches, yet under Sassoon’s influence, he too has become tormented by the morality of what is being done in the name of medicine.
Based on Pat Barker’s Booker Prize-nominated novel, Regeneration, this week’s offering at the Old Lady of Leven Street stars Tim Delap as Siegfried Sassoon and Garmon Rhys as Wilfred Owen.
Described as a “compellingly compassionate look at war and the devastating after effect it had on a generation of young men,” the production marks the centenary of the start of the First World War.
In a year when the nation has been spirited back to 1914, there has been little talk of the psychological impact of trench warfare however, a lure for playwright Nicholas Wright.
“Institutions always try to squash the individuality out of people,” he says. “What’s so fascinating is how in this mental institution the men’s imaginations grow.
“The book very excitingly shows Owen discovering his talent, which comes out really over this vast crush he has on Sassoon because of the poetry. And how he learned his real metier, which was writing poetry about the war.”
The central figure of Regenerations is Rivers, who applied the new-fangled teachings of Sigmund Freud to curing the shellshocked.
One of his patients is Billy Prior, a working-class officer who has suffered a breakdown on the front and retreated into mutism. Another character has lost the use of his legs. As for Sassoon, he was wounded by friendly fire. Rivers’ task is to spare the Establishment’s blushes by proving his insanity.
Wright says, “The job of most plays is for somebody to discover the truth about themselves. And it’s the same thing in analysis. But it wouldn’t be dramatic if it was an impersonal analyst helping the patient. They both have to be affected by it. It’s an interchange. And that’s the drama.”
For director, Simon Godwin, the question was how to stand out from the crowd in a year of commemoration. “The question in any kind of act of remembrance is how to make the memory live,” he says.
“What Nick has done is to take a story from the past but make it vividly alive to us now and that feels like it’s quite a different way of thinking about World War One than simply trying to remember.”
Regeneration, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, today-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-529 6000