Birdsong – Review – Cast, Doncaster

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Birdsong – Review

Doncaster Cast, May 2014

by Emily Lawley

Having once focused on World War One literature for my university dissertation, I am well-acquainted with the story portrayed in Sebastian Faulks’ novel Birdsong. I think I know what to expect from the theatre adaptation, but I am wrong. I am not prepared to be so completely immersed in the story. To find myself transported to the middle of the trenches, along with the characters in front of me.

birdsong review castThe opening scene is a raucous gathering of foot soldiers and sappers. They drink, smoke and sing. ‘One liners’ provide a smattering of humour that quickly warms you to the characters. This feeling of camaraderie in the battalion only makes the stark tragedies of war that soon play out in front of you all the more wrenching. I am sure I am not the only one in the theatre fighting back tears at the end of the first half.

With the entire duration of the war, plus equally important pre, during, and post-war storylines to convey in the space of just over two hours, Rachel Wagstaff’s re-imagining of the novel is no mean feat. The action moves at a rapid pace. It skips between three different periods of time in a matter of seconds. But the clever scripting and fantastic acting ensures you follow every detail of the plot.

“Compelling to watch”

Birdsong focuses on the juxtaposition of the two main characters. Stephen Wraysford is a young lieutenant who is disillusioned with the war effort. Jack Firebrace is an ex-miner who digs long, deep tunnels under the German trenches as part of Stephen’s battalion.

birdsong yorkshire theatreDespite the obvious differences in age, class and status, one thing is clear: What motivates them both to carry on during the war is love. Stephen’s pre-war passionate and illicit love affair with Elizabeth Azaire consumes him in the trenches. So much so that we go back in time again and again to see snippets of their whirlwind romance. Jack’s dedication to his son back home and his close bond with fellow sapper Arthur keeps him going and is utterly compelling to watch.

“Poignant finale”

Jack and Stephen are thrust together at the start of the play. Their lives in the trenches become more intertwined as the story progresses. Stephen is a distant Lieutenant to his men, but as the relationship and understanding between him and Jack grows, so does his realisation that his life is no more important than those of his men. The poignant final scenes of Birdsong are testament to how all of the men, soldiers or officers, allied or ‘enemies’, are equal.

The sound and lighting effects are superb. The incredibly talented cast (including well-known faces such as Peter Duncan of Blue Peter and Flash Gordon fame and Carolin Stoltz, who is best known as Elena Petrovich in Emmerdale), Rachel Wagstaff and director Alastair Whatley create a spectacular theatre experience.

With 2014 marking the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of World War One, this play is a stirring and fitting tribute to all those who fought and fell for their countries.

images: Jack Ladenburg

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