This beautiful production vividly brings to life the horror, the pain and fear felt by all during World War I.
Rachel Wagstaff’s wonderful adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s beloved World War I novel effectively interweaves the pain and suffering of those on the front as well as memories of the past before the war.
The story follows young Englishman Stephen Wraysford through two very different periods in his life. The first is set in the present where he commands a troop of soldiers about to go over the top of the trenches on that fateful day at the Somme, while the second sees him reflecting on his dangerous affair with Isabelle that turned both their worlds upside down.
But even before the action has begun, audiences entering the auditorium are whisked away to the grimness of conditions of the trenches and the impact of the war, thanks to Victoria Spearing’s elaborate and effective set design. Helped along by Dominic Bilkey’s extremely believable sound effects, there is no denying that this was going to be an emotional and grim journey.
Every element of the story and the characters are handled with great sensitivity and respect in Alastair Whateley and Charlotte Peters’ production that leads to some deeply moving moments between characters – including the haunting final scene of the first act in which young Tipper commits suicide out of fear before going over the top of the trench, shortly followed by the rest of the men going to certain death as they head up the ladders, all beautifully highlighted by Alex Wardle’s lighting.
There are plenty of strong elements such as this that highlight the emotional impact of the story – in particular, the music and songs (brilliantly performed by James Findlay) offer up extra poignancy in scenes such as when the company are writing their last letters to home before the final push is a wonderfully quiet and thoughtful moment filled with sadness.
But it has to be said that some of the scene changes as the story flits between the past and present can come across as slightly clunky and can at times pull the audience out of the story that the production can lose some momentum in places – particularly when the drama of the scene needs to be consistent.
However, the cast all deliver wonderfully grounded performances that really make an impact on the audience. In particular, Tom Kay offers a very believable and heart-wrenching performance as Stephen Wraysford as he struggles to reconcile his past with his present as depicted through his character’s mental breakdowns that are hard to watch. Other stellar performances come from Tim Treloar as the loyal Jack, Martin Carroll’s cold but piercing performance as Rene Azaire and Liz Garland as the charming Jeanne are all highlights – but really all of the cast are equally powerful to watch.
This is a production that is thoughtful, respectful and heartbreaking to watch – but its powerful poignancy and heartfelt performances make this a must-see show.
Birdsong continues to play at the New Victoria Theatre until the 17th March before continuing to tour. To book tickets visit ATG Tickets.