Reviewed by Kathryn Harrison
Tuesday night (3 April 2018) a friend and I attended The Lowry theatre for the opening night of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, which has been adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff. Having never read the book I only knew this play was set in World War One, but knew nothing of the story that was to be told.
The play begins on the Western Front, France in 1916 where we are first introduced to the “Sewer Rats” Jack Firebrace, played by Tim Treloar, Arthur Shaw, played by Simon Lloyd and Evans, played by Riley Carter. These men were underground tunnellers whose wartime mission was to dig a network of tunnels to get as close as possible to the enemy before setting explosives from below their trenches. As the play continues we are introduced to infantryman Tipper, played by Alfie Browne-Sykes and Officer Stephen Wraysford played by Tom Kay. The play tells us the story of each of these men up until 1918 however through the story of Stephen Wraysford we are transported via flashbacks to 1910 when he meets Isabelle Azaire, played by Madeleine Knight, a married french woman who Wraysford falls in love with.
The stories of these men are all individually moving but collectively they portray the true horror and desperation that WW1 soldiers must have felt. All the actors in the company were completely believable and captured the audience brilliantly right from the start. Throughout the performance certain scenes included music performed by James Findlay, these folk songs and hymns accompanied by the violin and melodeon were extremely moving and made those scenes all the more poignant. In contrast to the more sombre scenes the use of effects to create the sounds and sensations of explosions and shell fire were extremely impressive, I physically jumped out of my seat many times and it often felt like the whole theatre shook during an explosion. These explosions mixed with the music created a very evocative atmosphere.
This was a truly stirring play, enhanced by superb actors, that captured the hopelessness of war and the anguish of those trying to survive it. Stories like this are important to tell so we do not forget the suffering and sacrifice made by the generations before us. If you go to see this performance, and I highly recommend you do, prepare to be moved and emotionally affected.
Tickets cost from £21.50 to £29.50 (booking fees may apply).
Birdsong is at The Lowry in Manchester from 3-7 April 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000