The Alhambra

A HUNDRED years on the sights and sounds of the First World War continue to resonate.

The filth, stench and camaraderie of the trenches; the futility of soldiers being ordered to walk into the teeth of machine guns; being blown to pieces by shells. These are images that live on.

But it’s the mental impact of the Great War that forms the background to Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration, which is being brought to life this week at The Alhambra in the world premiere of a new stage version destined for the West End.

Set in the Craiglockhart Hospital for shell shocked officers, near Edinburgh (which is an NHS treatment centre for today’s veterans), this is a moving, thought-provoking - and often humorous - adaptation of the novel by Nicholas Wright.

It brings together war poets Siegfried Sassoon, who survived the front line, and Wilfred Owen, who didn’t, as junior officers recuperating from their experiences and nightmares.

There’s plenty of raw emotion; feelings of guilt; patriotism and sense of duty as felt by that generation of well-to-do young men who followed the colours.

The relationship between Sassoon and Owen of mutual respect - and even love - is sensitively brought out by Tim Delap as Siegfried,who faked his illness as part of his protest against the war, and Garmon Rhys as Owen, his admirer and protege - who perhaps went on to become the best known of the First Wold war poets.

In contrast to the usual Oxbridge educated subalterns - whose lifespan at the front averaged three months - Second Lieutenant Billy Prior is an officer from the back streets of Bradford whose asthma didn’t keep him from the front.

They are cared for by Captain Rivers, unusually for the time a sympathetic doctor, with issues of his own. He is excellently played by Stephen Boxer who brings out a fine mixture of calm reassurance, anger and doubt about his situation and the impact of war on the men in his care.

Every performance is nuanced, believable and strong.

Regeneration is not an ‘action play’, although there are literally flashes of the front, but it is riveting.

Director Simon Godwin has delivered a memorable piece of theatre .

This first-rate production and the book on which it is based provide a fitting memorial to those long lost soldiers which haunts us still.