21st may 2018
Birdsong Productions Ltd in Association with The Original Theatre Compnay
Stage adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff
Directed by Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters
In adapting Sebastian Faulks' novel for the stage, Rachel Wagstaff has to condense over 300 pages of a story spanning several years and 3 generations, into a little over two hours of theatre. She has to recreate the intimacy of a love story, alongside the expansive horror of The First Word War. The result is a taut, fast moving, emotionally tense play.
The story of the war - the sappers tunneling towards the German lines - is linear. We watch the sappers and their infantry support living (and dying) day to day, month to month through to the big push and finally the end of the war.
The love story is interspersed throughout this with flashback images of Lieutenant Wraysford's time spent in the town of Amiens before the war - when he fell in love with the young wife of his employer. These flashbacks are a splash of colour in the drab darkness of the trenches and tunnels, but they are far from happy - there are moments of passion and joy, but also the danger and threats in both the personal abusive relationships and the social unrest.
The staging is a magnificent representation of both the trenches and the tunnels, from the ladders leading to barbed wire and broken fences, to the narrow mouth of the dimly lit tunnel, the constant quiet trickle of water in the background, and the sudden flashbang of an explosion, to the gentle chirrup of the birdsong - almost as constant as the water. The men scratch constantly at fleas and lice, so much so that you feel you need to scratch too. Every sense is engaged bar that of smell - yet the set is so convincing that you can almost smell the cordite and the sweat.
The cast carry you along, their banter ad jokes perfectly evoking the camaraderie of the soldiers, but there are moments too that depict the tenderness of friendship and shared grief between these gruff solders.
There are strong performances from all of the cast members, but Tim Treloar as Jack Firebrace is outstanding. He will move you to tears, as will the beautiful voice of James Findlay whose songs punctuate the play and highlight the brutality of the men's situation.
An incredible show that questions the nature of love, and highlights the futility of war, and the waste of life. It is a sad thought that 100 years later governments are still trying to solve problems and prove their strength by blowing their people to pieces.
Birdsong runs until Saturday 26th May. Buy a ticket, and take a hanky.