Young Reporter's Blog

Young Reporter's Blog

Friday, 26 September 2014

Young Reporter Laura Jane Bateman looks at the modern Great War play, reflecting on Pat Barker's Regneration, adpated by Nicholas Wright and David Haig's My Boy Jack.

Between Saturday 30 August and Saturday 6 September, I was lucky enough to be the Theatre Cloud Young Reporter for the world premiere of Nicholas Wright’s adaption of Pat Barker’s Regeneration at Royal & Derngate in Northampton. In addition to reviewing the press performance, I wrote articles about Northampton itself and the history of the theatre, I interviewed the play’s leading actors, Tim Delap (Sassoon) and Stephen Boxer (Rivers), and I wrote my own appraisal of the relationship between Sassoon and Owen. It was thrilling to be even a tiny part of the launch of this wonderful new play, which embarks on a three-month national tour after its run in Northampton.

Now, as I hand the baton to the Young Reporter for Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, my attention is re-focusing on another Great War play: David Haig’s My Boy Jack, in which I am acting with a Loughborough-based theatrical society, The Festival Players. The play premiered in 1997 at Hampstead Theatre, London, and was filmed for ITV in 2007 starring Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter series), its author David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) and Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby).

There are uncanny similarities between Regeneration and My Boy Jack. Both plays focus very much on the consequences of modern warfare: they display the extent of the mental trauma that the soldiers suffered (and, frequently, the non-combatants also), and both grapple with the question of whether war and the loss of young life can ever be justified. And both pieces, of course, benefit from a sense of detachment due to being written decades after the conflict. Though the (all offstage) deaths in both plays are tragic, the audience is not forced to condemn those who brought them about; rather, Wright, Barker and Haig present their plots with a degree of objectivity, allowing the audience to make up its own mind about the necessity of the carnage of the First World War.

Another crucial similarity between the plays is that both are based on fact. Regeneration tells of how pioneering doctor Captain William Rivers cured shell-shocked officers with his radical ‘talking therapy’, including the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. My Boy Jack reveals how celebrated author Rudyard Kipling obtained his myopic only son, John (nicknamed Jack), an officer’s commission so that he could serve on the Western Front. Both plays have the power of language and the healing capacity of poetry at their hearts: just as Sassoon takes comfort in Owen’s surviving verse, Kipling attempts to abate his guilt by writing the moving and now infamous poem that gives the play its title.

As an amateur theatrical company, we are able to rehearse My Boy Jack for a far longer period than professionals can: whereas the Regeneration team had only a month to mount their production, we have been rehearsing for two evenings a week for over three. The difficulty with this, however, is that although the process is less intense, one loses the fluidity that comes with working on a show all day, every day; it is too easy to forget the blocking for the play’s opening scene by the time the finale has been set two months later.

We are also facing similar difficulties to Regeneration with regards to selling tickets. After the avalanche of documentaries and drama series that appeared on our television screens over the summer, it is apparent, to quote Regeneration’s associate producer Neale Birch, that the public is “warred out”. Theatre is generally regarded as entertainment, as escapism from the trials of everyday life; the unavoidably upsetting elements of Great War plays do not often provide the desired light relief. Sadly, it is therefore often only the committed, ‘hard-core’ theatregoer who buys tickets for a Great War play, particularly when there are a variety of temptingly upbeat musicals on offer too (though at a greater cost per ticket). Although school groups can bulk out auditoriums, both productions are running a little too early in the academic year for teachers to have time to organise trips.

The Festival Players production of David Haig's My Boy Jack


Yet despite slow ticket sales and, in the case of My Boy Jack, a rather disjointed rehearsal process, it is a joy to work on such beautiful plays. Having met the cast of Regeneration, I can confirm that they too share my feeling of determination to do justice to the wonderful writing, and to honour the real-life characters who endured such terrible agonies. The grief of the Kipling family in My Boy Jack was real, and mirrors the grief of thousands of families across the globe that lost loved ones in the conflict. The survivors’ guilt of Sassoon and Rivers in Regeneration was real, and reflects the survivors’ guilt of many of the returning servicemen. If we play to half-empty auditoriums when My Boy Jack opens on October 1st, and if Regeneration is not greeted on its tour by the full houses that it deserves, we may feel disappointed, even cheated; yet we will be able to take pride in the fact that we are bringing such remarkable characters to life for a new generation, and commemorating the sacrifices they made one hundred years on.

My Boy Jack is presented by The Festival Players by arrangement with Nick Hern Books Ltd. It runs from Wednesday 1 to Saturday 4 October (with a matinee in addition to an evening performance on the Saturday) at Loughborough Town Hall, Leicestershire. For tickets, please telephone the booking manager on 07855 248832.

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.