Tag Archives: Birdsong

REVIEW: Birdsong – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Rachel Wagstaff has gamely adapted Sebastian Faulks’ sprawling, nearly 500 page novel Birdsong, into a two hour 20 minute stage play. First seen in the West End in 2010, it’s now, in its revised form, on its timely fourth and final UK tour, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war.

This version, unlike the West End original has had a structural overhaul. The play flashes from past to present, love to war. To Wraysford’s life in 1910 in Amiens, where as a young man, he is in France to study the textile industry at the factory of René Azaire. Where he meets and falls in love with René’s much younger wife Isabelle and to 1914-16, the Somme and Wraysford’s life on the French frontline.

While the ill-fated love story between Isabelle and Stephen constitutes a major plotline, it is rendered somewhat wishy-washy in comparison to the war scenes, the chemistry between Wraysford (Tom Kay) and Isabelle (Madeleine Knight) lacking any spark. That this ice-cold pair could ever warm up to passion just doesn’t convince.

It is at its most gripping when it concentrates on the stories of the young men in the trenches. Enough time is given to develop a backstory for each and as a result the audience are emotionally invested in their fates: Sapper Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar) catapulted from a life digging tunnels for the London Underground to a life digging trenches for the British Army, under-age Tipper (Alfie Browne-Sykes) traumatised by the day-today reality of warfare and ever-chipper Welsh farm boy Evans (Riley Carter) hiding secrets behind the smile.

The set, sound and lighting design add much to the viewing experience and bring the audience closer to the action and the action is enhanced by folk musician James Findlay’s plaintive punctuation of the action.

A play about the horrors of war is always a hard sell, and while this reviewer remains to be convinced of this newest production, in focussing on the human beings behind the gunfire, makes it a gripping, timely and ultimately moving story that deserves to be seen.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub


REVIEW: Birdsong – Comedy Theatre, London

When choosing what plays or musicals to see on this trip certain criteria came into play, “What have I not seen?” and “Who would I like to see?”  As a much loved book frequently voted into “favourites” lists, Birdsong would certainly come high on any list just to see what could be done to transfer this massive and heart wrenching story to the stage. However, if I’m being honest the real reason was to see Ben Barnes.

Curiosity to see what “Prince Caspian” is like in “real life” and to see if there was any substance to the rather attractive exterior.

Thankfully he didn’t disappoint in any department. He is as stunning in real life as he looks on screen (I was literally inches away) and he can actually act. The trench scenes especially were poignant and thought provoking. It shows that war in any age never really changes and that we need to remember that it’s fellow human beings who are fighting them on our behalf – not abstract names or statistics.

The supporting cast were equally strong, in particular veteran Nicholas Farrell and Lee Ross (below) as Jack Firebrace who really moved in the heart-breaking trench scene. Genevieve O’Reilly (above right) although convincing as the aloof, married woman, I find cold and detached in everything she does and it was no different here.

One of the more amusing aspects of the evening was the girl beside us who you could tell was having difficulty containing herself everytime Mr Barnes passed by the front of the stage. Only due to the urging of her mortified friend did she manage to restrain herself from actually touching him. I was secretly hoping she would go for it to see what would happen.

It’s not, and no stage adaptation could ever be, the epic novel, but it was adept in its portrayal of the stultifying bourgeois society of turn of the century Amiens, and the terrifying claustrophobia of the trenches and the tunnels was convincingly and movingly done.