Interview: Regeneration's Tim Delap and Stephen Boxer
Interview: Regeneration's Tim Delap and Stephen Boxer
Thursday, 11 September 2014
Tim Delap and Stephen Boxer are currently starring as Siegfried Sassoon and Captain Rivers in Nicholas Wright’s stage adaption of Pat Barker’s Regeneration. Young Reporter Laura Jayne Bateman catches up with them at Royal & Derngate.
Tim Delap plays Sassoon, the charismatic and outspoken poet who is appalled by the conduct of the war. His theatre credits include leading roles in the West End productions of The History Boys and The Woman in Black, in addition to Hamlet at the Sheffield Crucible and All’s Well That Ends Well at the RSC.
Stephen Boxer plays Rivers, the pioneering doctor who begins to question the morality of his work, which sees him cure shell-shocked officers only to return them to France. His theatre credits include the title role in Titus Andronicus at the RSC, plus many leading roles in the West End and for the National Theatre.
Young Reporter: What has been your career highlight to date?
Stephen: I have to say that Regeneration is a real highlight. Parts like this don’t come along every day of the week. It was my favourite book in the 90s, so when the script arrived in my email inbox, it was a real gift.
Tim: It’s definitely a highlight for me too. Playing Sassoon in this wonderful adaption and working with Simon [Godwin, the director] means that we have a combination of a great script and a great director that doesn’t come along very often. The best jobs are definitely when there’s a great working relationship between cast and director.
Stephen: Simon has a real eye for detail, and he has very skilfully created the world of the play onstage. In theatre, it’s all about the collaborative experience. My best experiences have been with a director who I could trust and with whom I could have a dialogue, because they tend to put together a company that has real chemistry.
YR: What was the rehearsal process like?
Tim: Regeneration is a complex play and it’s a new play, but we only had four weeks in the rehearsal room plus a very short tech week. Simon was determined for us to have a week around the table to read through the play and talk it over so that we could all investigate the text. It means that everyone in the company has a very thorough knowledge of the world of the play, so it was a really valuable exercise. But even in the final week of rehearsals, we were still trimming the text down and removing certain lines that we thought muddied the clarity of the play.
YR: So is it more difficult to stage a new play than a revival?
Stephen: Not necessarily; the challenges are simply different. If you’re acting in a revival then there’s the burden of everyone else who has played the role before you, but the joy of a new play is that nothing has come before to compare it to. Though on the other hand, when rehearsing a new play, you don’t actually know whether or not it’s a viable piece of drama.
Tim: But that’s what’s exciting about it, because it’s never been put onstage; no-one has ever seen it before, so all the time you’re thinking, will this work? Is it engaging?
Stephen: My only fear when first reading the play was that the dramatic arc was a little small. I wasn’t sure whether there were enough dramatic moments, and whether it would end up being a word-bound piece. But the characters create the conflicts.
YR: I suppose the difficulty is that this play is so full of subtext: it’s as much about what the characters don’t say as what they do. But you could argue that dramatic moments do occur in the confrontations between the characters.
Stephen: Absolutely. You’ve just got to hope that by the time we reach those moments, the audience cares, and fortunately, I think it will.
Tim: Simon gave us all a very useful note before the press performance. He told us to remember that all of the characters are very passionate people; Rivers is passionate about his pioneering therapies, Sassoon is passionate about protesting against the war, Owen is passionate about poetry. None of the characters are boring, which is part of what makes the play so engaging.
YR: You’re both playing real-life characters, so what research did you do? Did you stick to the information in the novel and play, or did you look elsewhere?
Stephen: Between getting the role and starting rehearsals, I didn’t have time to do anything more than re-read the novels and do a fair bit of Googling.
Tim: I read the three novels, and then half of one of Sassoon’s many biographies, up until the point at which the play ends [January 1919]. In rehearsals, Simon got us all to do a timeline of our character’s life up until the beginning of the play [July 1917], so we were all doing a lot of research during the first week. Sassoon’s diaries were an incredible help, and much of his work, such as The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston, is autobiographical as well. You can read endlessly about Sassoon!
Stephen: There are three quite humorous lines that Rivers has in the novels that I managed to sneak into the script. The play read quite seriously in the beginning, but it’s released a lot more humour the more we’ve worked on it, which is great.
YR: I was really impressed by how much the writing and you as a company have embraced the homosexual subtext of the piece. It’s very subtlety done.
Stephen: If you play the text with integrity then it bleeds through regardless. I was surprised, when I read the play, by how much homoeroticism there was, but after re-reading the books I realised that the adaption is actually quite modest in that respect.
Tim: The love that Sassoon and Owen have for each other is absolutely key to the play. A love story is always beautiful to watch, and in one of the final rehearsals, Simon told Garmon [Rhys, who plays Wilfred Owen] and I to find the joy in the scenes between the two characters. But it’s very subtle; it’s only suggested.
Stephen: There’s a period element to that. We’re very good, these days, at applying the attitudes of 2014 to history, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. But what the novel and the play do very well is highlight how dangerous homosexual love was, and also how repressed and unexpressed it was, which I think Rivers exemplifies. As he says: “It’s that English habit of repressing what’s unbearable”.
Tim: The novel and the play very skilfully tie in the repression of the officers’ war experiences with the repression of sexuality, and to ignore that would be to ignore a crucial element of the story, and of Regeneration’s key message.
YR: It’s interesting that you mention the joy between Sassoon and Owen, because there’s a real sense of contentment onstage during their scenes together, which makes the end of the play incredibly moving.
Tim: For Sassoon and Owen, there’s a real sense in the play of words being their therapy; they’re able to express themselves through art in the language of poetry. They’ve found kindred spirits within each other, so there’s a real element of joy there.
YR: There’s considerable diversity with regards to theatrical experience amongst this company. Does that diversity benefit the creative process?
Stephen: It’s so invigorating to work with people who are doing things for the first time. It freshens the whole experience, and there’s a wonderful lack of cynicism which reminds you of how lucky you are to be doing this job for a living.
Tim: It’s great to be able to feed off the energy and youth of someone fresh out of drama school.
YR: You’re in Northampton for three weeks, and then you’re off on tour for three months. How will you keep the show and your performances fresh?
Stephen: Sometimes I give myself one note to play before every show, and even if it just concerns one line, it has a knock-on effect. New things can happen as a result of that slight alteration that you didn’t anticipate. As long as the note is sound!
Tim: I think the way that we’ve rehearsed the play and worked on the play means that nothing has been set in concrete. Obviously, we have to keep the blocking essentially the same, but we’re a group of actors who love exploration, and we’ll continue to find new things in the text as the tour progresses.
YR: How have you found working in Northampton and at Royal & Derngate?
Stephen: It’s a gem of a theatre. It’s light and airy and incredibly well-run. Over the years, I’ve toured to practically every town in the country except Northampton, so I can now tick it off my list!
Tim: We’re all really enjoying Northampton. Most of us live in London, so one of the great things about this job is that it allows you to discover new parts of the country.
YR: What challenges are you going to face touring the show as opposed to if it was a stationary production in the West End or in repertory?
Stephen: Making sure you have nice digs is important. It’s a bit of a shot in the dark!
Tim: Each theatre has a list of local people who have a spare room that they are willing to rent, and the prices are always very reasonable. You just have to get on the phone and book a room; sometimes the digs are fine, and sometimes the people putting you up are a little strange, so it’s always a bit of a lottery.
Stephen: But when you’re in the West End, going to the same theatre every day to do eight shows a week, the pattern is fixed and so it becomes difficult to keep the play alive. What’s great about touring is that you’re always playing in new theatres with different atmospheres, different auditoriums and different acoustics, and to different audiences, so it helps the nightly process of re-invention.
YR: Aside from the centenary commemorations, why is it important for Regeneration to be performed now? What relevance does it have in 2014?
Stephen: How to deal with the consequences of war and battle-induced trauma is timeless. We’ve had Iraq, Afghanistan, the Faulklands and Korea in recent years, so there are people still alive today who have been through experiences parallel to those of the play’s characters. The play’s messages are very current, particularly about the fusion of therapy and art as a method of healing, and the power of words.
Tim: Sassoon has a really great line in the first act when he realises that “one hundred years from now, they’ll still be ploughing up skulls”. There’s a real sense of war being timeless; we’re constantly fighting wars, but Sassoon is able to step back from it and use the power of language to express the experiences of the soldiers.
YR: And the final question… if (God forbid) you could only have one more acting job after Regeneration, what role would you most like to play?
Stephen: I’d probably go for Leontes in The Winter’s Tale or Iago in Othello.
Tim: The obvious role to say would be Hamlet because it’s a great part… Another obvious one would be James Bond. Oh, and playing a superhero would be quite fun!
Regeneration premieres on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.
Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.