Howard Brenton's play Doctor Scroggy's War is the story of a fictional soldier, Jack Twigg, who, after receiving an injury on the front line during the First World War, encounters the polymath and celebrated surgeon Harold Gillies, acknowledged as the father of modern plastic surgery. The play was first performed at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, on 12 September 2014, marking the centenary of the war.
The play's action centres around the invented character Jack Twigg, a ship’s chandler’s son who enlists in the London Regiment, falls in love with the upper-class Penelope Wedgewood and works as a junior intelligence officer for Sir John French during the battle of Loos in 1915. But Jack leaves the staff, determined to serve in the front line, and there receives a terrible facial injury. This, in the play’s second half, brings him into contact with Harold Gillies, a real-life pioneering plastic surgeon who developed new methods of skin-grafting to restore the faces of badly mutilated men at the Queen’s hospital, Sidcup. The play’s title derives from the roistering alter ego Gillies created to prevent his patients from succumbing to despair. Gillies tries to convince Twigg not to go back to the front, but is unable to do so and the play ends with the young soldier back on the Western Front.
In an article published in The Independent (10 September 2014), Brenton says of the play: 'What helped me in dramatising Harold Gillies were accounts of his extraordinary way of speaking. He was renowned for being difficult to understand, flinging out sentences studded with bizarre metaphors, speeding ahead of his listeners and, at times, himself. Gillies had a hyperactive sense of humour: there were practical jokes and entertainments; there was cross-dressing and illicit champagne and oysters served at night in the wards. Queens was a military hospital and rumours of "goings on" troubled authority. But Gillies, who treated more than five thousand terribly wounded men, some needing as many as 50 operations, understood that souls as well as faces had to be healed. Some of his patients never reintegrated into society but an extraordinary number did, with an insouciance that Gillies's "goings on" encouraged. I have him say about the hospital "We don't do glum here" – that was his spirit. But he was also conflicted in his work by a great fear: that the men he healed would go back to fight at the front.'
The Shakespeare's Globe premiere was directed by John Dove and designed by Michael Taylor. It was performed by Catherine Bailey (as Penelope Wedgewood), Sam Cox, Patrick Driver, Will Featherstone (as Jack Twigg), James Garnon (as Harold Gillies), Daisy Hughes, Joe Jameson, Tom Kanji, Christopher Logan, William Mannering, Holly Morgan, Rhiannon Oliver, Keith Ramsay, Paul Rider, Katy Stephens and Dickon Tyrrell.