Interview: The Women of Regeneration

Interview: The Women of Regeneration

Friday, 10 October 2014

Young Reporter Raza Khan looks at the role of women in Regeneration, in this interview with Emma Tugman and Lindy Whiteford, who play Nurse and Sister Rogers in Simon Godwin's production.

Waking up from my nap at 3:30pm, I hazily Google the world's opinions of the women in Regeneration. If the sharp brightness of the screen hadn't woken me, I think it's pretty safe to say the torrent of criticism of the plays patriarchy did. All of a sudden, I was terrified. I had imagined I would saunter into the Pit Bar, take a seat with Emma and Lindy, have a fabulous interview with a few laughs thrown in and that would be that.

But now, oh now, all I could imagine were awkward exchanges between the three of us, me shifting uncomfortably in chair, mouth drying up as the clumsiness takes over and I spill a drink all over one of the lovely ladies. Luckily, that didn't happen because:

A. They both agreed women were under-represented, and knew that was context bound.

B. They were both so approachable and passionate about the play, the awkwardness just melted away.

C. There were no drinks, so clumsily spilling one proved to be difficult.

At 5:15pm, both Emma and Lindy have graced my presence, slowly sinking into the plush Pit Bar chairs as introductions flit between us. It is time... interview time. Launching into the most generic of questions;

Lindy Whiteford as Nurse Rogers How did you prepare for the roles of Nurse and Sister Rogers?

How unprepared I was for the answer.
Lindy sat back and her wealth of acting experience flowed, 'first you work on the text and read up on the period,' referring to the routine, cleanliness of the military run hospitals such as Edinburgh's, Craighlockhart. Speaking with such passion for the role, Lindy bestows upon me the knowledge of how she becomes her characters. Quite simple really. All she does is the easy task of writing an in-depth biography on the person she is bringing to life, complete with fully developed characters and side characters, oh that isn't time-consuming in the slightest! The amount of work required is just astounding, not only for Sister Rogers but for every role Lindy takes on and, it must be said, the effort pays off tremendously.

Emma Tugman, however, takes a different approach - studying how nurses are depicted throughout Pat Barker's novel and gaining an understanding of the women of the era. Tugman only became the nurse at the first technical rehearsal, the decision made to increase the female presence in the play. The chemistry between Nurse and Sister Rogers clearly conveys who's boss, yet there is a sense of unity between these two actresses. They strike me as a female, 1917 version of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman (Breaking Bad); no matter what happens, they will face it together and will always be considered our 'angels'.

How do you think the women compare to the men in Regeneration? Does the play do enough to represent the struggle of women in war?

As soon as the question passed my lips, Emma and Lindy exchanged glances, a few silent seconds passed before Lindy put Emma forward to answer first. 'The women are under-represented,' Emma slowly replies, thinking aloud and as soon as all the cogs fall into place she perks up and confidently answers, 'but it's to make it believable' and I agree. 'It's a thrilling adaptation and above all else, it is authentic'. This idea of authenticity is what makes Regeneration so strong. From the characters to the tiniest rubber buttons found on Sister Roger's costume, Nicholas Wright transports you back to 1917.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of playing Nurse and Sister Rogers?

Lindy answered first, the words spoken laid a bridge between Lindy Whiteford, theatre actress and Raza Khan, 17-year-old (not 25 as Lindy thought) awkward Young Reporter. It turned out my great-grandfather and Lindy's grandfather both fought in Burma during the war. Learning about the war, soldiers' lives and the push to get sick soldiers back onto the battlefield is a side of the war which is not really talked about. Lindy, through the course of this production, has gained tremendous insight into the war and the life her great-grandfather lived; I believe it is a memory she will treasure for the rest of her life. Well, that and the made to measure frock she wears as Sister Rogers, which is quite a pretty frock indeed.

Emma has been in the acting business for only five years. Having the opportunity to tour with the Touring Consortium, who consistently put on the most glorious productions, it is easy to see why Emma has such a strong sense of pride in playing her part. 

What do you think about Sarah [a love interest of Billy Prior's in Pat Barker's novel] being cut from the adaptation? Why do you think this happened?

'What more could we have added?' Lindy asked. At first I try to formulate a coherent answer, but Lindy goes on as I breathe a sigh of relief and praise the lord for rhetorical questions. Passion is injected into every syllable, as the reasons behind the controversial cut are given, I found myself agreeing more as Lindy and Emma made clear it was a 'valid decision'.

Regeneration is a man's play, that is the inescapable truth. The storyline of Sarah and Billy would not have been done justice due to the emphasis on Rivers' relationship with Sassoon and Prior, the beauty of which arguably stole the show. Emma and Lindy came to the conclusion: would the audience rather see a first-rate production that conveys the pain, humour and drama of war in phenomenal fashion, or see an extra character who does not progress the main storyline and would add an unnecessary hour of runtime? I know what I'd choose, give your own opinions on Twitter @TheatreCloud or @ReichenbachTrip .

Why should people watch Regeneration?

As I asked this final question, I reflected on the interview, high-fiving myself in my head for not cocking it up, yet this felt like an easy win. Speaking to these two magnificent women was a joy, and the opportunity for them to be my first-ever interviewees is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life, and now it was over. You can hear the zeal they have for their work in every word and they have every right to be 'proud of it [Regeneration] as a production'. How a play set a century ago can touch every person in a theatre fascinates me, Nicholas Wright's adaptation of Barker's novel is simply 'great theatre', and it does an amazing service to those who fought in the First World War.

I walked away into the blistering winds and could not find the right words to describe the experience. Maybe I had the words but they fell down the back of the chair as I sunk into it?  I do have some words left, however, and I think they're the right words - Yes, some may criticise Regeneration for not doing women justice - but it is easy to see Emma Tugman and Lindy Whitman's portrayals of the Nurse and Sister Rogers capture the solidarity, strength and independence of women in the most beautiful ways. In a play about men, what more can you ask?


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.