Susan Watkins has described it as the “miracle of ward three”. And while the playwright’s drama doesn’t shirk from the horrors of war, it creates something glorious and transformative in its telling of one man’s determination to help those scarred by battle.
The story of Archibald McIndoe - the unorthodox New Zealand surgeon - and his work with the Guinea Pig Club, a group of badly injured RAF men, proves perfectly pitched.
Watkins refuses to sentimentalise their situation - the treatment sequences are painful to watch - but offsets it with a frank, black humour.
In Damian Cruden’s staging, which takes place in a starkly-lit treatment ward, there are moments of fantasy, with a glamorously-dressed ward nurse, accompanied by a twinkling glitter-ball, singing hits from the era.
But its core is a candid exploration of how a group of men cope with life-changing injuries. These are strongly drawn characters - including George Ure as Tom, a man so buckled up by his thoughts that he can only really communicate through his ventriloquist’s doll.
As McIndoe, Graeme Hawley captures someone pugnacious and combative but also compassionate with his badly injured charges. He is brutally honest - telling one patient that he will create for him “a proper nose, which can be punched” - while rhapsodising about the need to treat “the whole man”, rather than focusing purely on the cosmetics.
Watkins’ drama deserves multiple viewings. The struggles of this group to readjust is layered with thoughts on dignity and personal sacrifice. But at its core is the enduring bond of male friendship, forged in the most horrific of circumstances.