Esalan Gates, Director of Castle Theatre Company’s Regeneration, outlines what we can expect from the show.

It is one hundred and one years since the Armistice. We are the first generation for whom the World Wars are not in our parents’ memory, and still we feel the ripple effects of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century.

Regeneration is a play about the reshaping of the lives of young men during World War I, and as such is demonstrative of the ongoing reconstruction of our understanding of trauma since 1914. Throughout the play, the men’s relationships with each other and with themselves crumble with the reliving of their trauma, each emotional moment paralleled in another as we begin to gain a sense of déjà vu. We grow to understand that these are not simply individual experiences but are symptomatic of a pervasive issue of repression. It is a play about opening up; as in real life, the trauma patients in the play have suppressed their emotional response to their experiences, and so must reprocess their trauma before they can move on from it. We as a society have yet to move on from the World Wars, as we live with a fractured sense of nation and community that never fully recovered.

It is fitting that Regeneration is not only being performed a week after Remembrance Day, but during Movember, a month where we are encouraged to reflect on the societal approach to men’s mental health. There is a strong sense of complicity in every moment of the performance as the characters react to the audience surrounding them on three sides, repeatedly referring to the presence of an audience throughout the play as if in recognition of the characters’ own need to repress and perform. Class is touched upon as a systemic means of repressing sense of self, and many of the male characters are LGBTQ+, so it became clear that the central focus must be on the multi-faceted societal conditioning that forced the repression of the characters’ emotional states.

There are moments of stylised movement in the play that allow glimpses into the people the characters used to be before the war. Over and over again, we see them slip naturally into the brace position, even in flashbacks to their youth, as though they knew what was coming and were already attempting to protect themselves from that onslaught. The most harrowing moments of the show are in fact at odds: we are confronted with both the horrific physicality of soldiers vomiting and receiving electric shock therapy, and the beautiful poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon as they try to encapsulate the horrors of wartime.

Regeneration has a stunning cast, string quartet and production team, all of whom contribute to a visceral performance where masculinity, mental health, sexuality, and class are dissected and reconstructed in a desperate effort to understand and recognise love in the darkest of times.

Regeneration will play in Bede Chapel on 15th, 16th and 17th November.

Image credit: Esalan Gates