Friday, 19 September 2014

Interview Will Featherstone - Doctor Scroggy's War

IN the centenary year of the outbreak of World War One, a new play has been written which takes a sideways look at one of the deadliest conflicts in history.
Written by Howard Brenton, Doctor Scroggy's War explores the work of doctor Sir Harold Gillies and the profound impact he had on the lives of hundreds of injured and traumatised young soldiers.
It focuses on the pioneering work he did at the Queen's Hospital in Sidcup (now Queen Mary's Hospital) treating those who were horrifically injured in the conflict
It was here that Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery, performing more than 11,000 operations on more than 5,000 men.
His incredible story has provided the basis for the new play which has its premiere tonight (Fri 12th) at the Globe theatre.
It stars Peckham actor Will Featherstone who plays Jack Twigg, a young man in the middle of a university degree who signs up to fight with the London Regiment.
But almost immediately he suffers life changing injuries and is sent to the hospital where Dr Gillies helps save his life and his sanity.
For the 28-year-old actor it has provided a chance to find out more about those who were a vital part of the war effort but whose remarkable lives and contributions are often overlooked.
“It’s been fascinating and such an opportune time to put on the play,” says Will. "We all know about the battles and huge loss of life but I've learned so much about what happened away from the theatre of war.
"This play looks at those who were behind the war effort and the impact it had on their lives - the mums and dads whose sons went off to fight, the girlfriends they left behind, the doctors and the real belief they had that it would be over by Christmas.
"What surprised me was the fact that despite their terrible injuries most of these men were desperate to go back to the front. It was a kind of badge of honour and a glory for them."
For Will's character Jack, this is no exception
“Jack Twigg is an Oxford undergraduate who enthusiastically enlists," he says. "The play follows his war journey - from signing up to going to France and his fight to get to the front and what happens to him when he does.
"Within days he loses half his face and gets sent back to Dr Gillies. He feels worthless and yet despite all that pain, suffering and trauma he clings on to the fact he just wants to get back to the war.
"Howard gives him lots of reasons not to go back - he loses his best friend, the love of his life but he is so determined.
"It’s an incredible mindset and I admire his perseverance, determination and loyalty. He was so young - only 19 - and it was the biggest challenge for me to get into the part because I've never been put in the position of having to make a choice like that.
"Who is to say how we would feel and whether we would do the same. It was a different time and a different method of warfare to its modern equivalent.
"But Jack was like so many young people at that time who really believed in their duty to fight and protect their country. They were so brave."
Despite the subject matter, Will says far from being maudlin, the play celebrates life and features a huge amount of humour.
"It does sound very heavy and it's obviously very moving but it's hilarious at times," he laughs. "It's brilliantly written and a fantastic and wonderful story.
"It's all down to the writing - I think Howard Brenton is the greatest living playwright - he is a writer who makes you cry one moment laugh the next. It’s incredible.
"But it's also because Doctor Scroggy, who is a mysterious figure within the story, is all about the medicine of fun.
"His alter ego, Dr Gillies was pioneering - he was doing all these amazing things medically but psychologically he believed in the healing power of humour and would dress up and muck about with his patients to try and alleviate their suffering."
And he says he's looking forward to helping tell the story to a Globe audience.
"It's a wonderful place to share a story especially one as great as this which is of such bravery and courage," he enthuses.
"The greatest privilege for me is to be part of this story and we are all now really excited about getting on to the stage."
And Will is no stranger to the Globe having played Romeo in its Playing Shakespeare production of Romeo & Juliet two years ago.
“It was amazing because we all knew it would be the closest we would get to what an audience would have been like in Shakespeare’s day,” he says.
"It's a play about young people, for young people and the pit was full of teenagers and they were really interacting with us – shouting out and when we had lines which ended with a question they’d shout out an answer – it was fantastic – they got so into it. It was brilliant!"
There may be less of that interaction this time around but it hasn’t dampened Will’s excitement.
“The Globe is one of the most amazing stages," he says. "It is such an inspirational space – it’s so lovely to be back and I can’t wait!"

Doctor Scroggy's War opens at the Globe tonight and runs until October 10. Tickets cost from £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.

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