Birdsong theatre review: The full depths of human emotion laid bare in this gripping evocation of a love story set during World War One.

Birdsong theatre review by Katey Thompson.

Birdsong theatre review
Birdsong theatre review

Birdsong is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Sebastian Faulks. This production has been produced for the centenary of the first world war, as the story occurs on the Western front in France and in Amiens and looks at how Stephen Wraysford comes to the town at first to learn about the textile industry but then later as a British solider.

The facts and figures of the First World War are well known, the thousands of men who died at the Somme and Passchendaele, that numerous soldiers who claimed to be 18 when they enlisted were much younger often as little as 15, and this production creates a more personal side to the war.

The staging of this play provided the stark backdrop of the trench, with sandbags and ladders, as well as the impression of the underground tunnels dug under the German frontline. The soldiers time was recreated with plenty of army songs, drinking and jokes which really gave a sense of the great bond made between them to get through, the demands of trench warfare including going over the top.

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The play has a relatively small cast for the ambition of the production, and they give passionate and intense performances, especially from Madeleine Knight (playing Isabelle Azaire), Alistair Whatley (playing Stephen Wraysford) and Tim Treloar (Playing Jack Firebrace). Wraysford the central character becomes injured during the fighting and is taken to a field hospital by Jack a sapper, who is more familiar with the tunnels of the underground that the travails of war. This link between the two men is revisited again in the final scene. The number and intensity of Wraysfords flashbacks during his recovery raise the tempo of scene changes, and the cast drift in and out of his memories like ghosts. The scenery is often the same but cleverly transformed by the use of props from trenches to tavern to sitting room, reflecting his emotional state.

This is an emotional tale of solider dealing with the reality of war, with love and courage one a father and husband, the other a son and lover and these themes along with the combination of loud explosions and the terror of the men fighting their way through a living hell was an evocative and moving experience. Thoroughly recommended.

Birdsong theatre review (UK Tour) by Katey Thompson, March 2018.

Birdsong is running at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking until 17th March 2018.