At Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
from 25 February to 2 March 2013
Reviewed by Heather Chipping
‘BIRDSONG’ a touring production by The Original Theatre Company and Birdsong Productions Ltd.
On Monday evening the 25 February I visited my local theatre in Guildford, the Yvonne Arnaud to see ‘Birdsong’. Having read the novel by Sebastian Faulks some years ago and seen the more recent television production I was interested to see how Rachel Wagstaff had managed to adapt it for the stage.
The story is set on the Western Front in France during the last two years of the First World War, also goes back to 1910 in Amiens as Lieutenant Stephen Wraysford re-lives his past.
There was a single permanent set designed as a dug-out in the trenches on the Front Line, with the upper level reached by ladder and revealing an enclosed area of sky with stunted, burned trees and the cross of a grave silhouetted against it. The whole enhanced by clever lighting and sound effects conveyed the claustrophobic and filthy conditions the soldiers had to endure while waiting to ‘go over the top’.
The action goes back and forth from Stephen Wraysford at the Front Line with his men to his past as he remembers his life as a 20 year old in Amiens where he meets and has a passionate affair with Isabelle the young French wife of a much older widower and factory owner. The scenes that take place outside the trenches are represented by the actors moving pieces of furniture and props on and off the stage within the existing set to indicate Isabelle’s house, field hospital, brothel or bar. This device is often used now and works well, but here because of the frequency of the reminisces and necessary scene setting the action seemed to lose some momentum, and the first act lasting an hour and a half would have benefitted from a bit more pace.
Jonathan Smith plays Stephen Wraysford and Tim Treloar plays Jack Firebrace one of the tunnellers deployed to dig under the German lines so explosives could be set to destroy the enemy in an effort to end the war. These two were on stage almost the entire time and gave superb performances, beautifully portraying the fears, frustrations, anger and helplessness of the situation they were in, and deserved the special cheer they received from the audience when they took their bow.
It was hard to realise that there were only 12 cast members, but with some of them playing more than one character they managed to give the impression of the prescence of many more, each giving good supporting performances, especially Liam McCormick playing Arthur, Jack’s friend and confidante.
It was a clever adaptation of a complex story in time and place, transporting it to the confines of a stage production and still making it believable and moving.
Tickets cost from £15. Running time 2 hours 30 minutes (including 15 minute interval).
For more information or to book tickets visit Yvonne Arnaud here.