Birdsong is a very impressive adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ novel, depicting a tragic love story set within the First World War on the dangerous front lines. The soldiers’ task is to tunnel beneath No Man’s Land and bomb the Germans from underground.The Original Theatre Company has retold this beautiful story in a naturalistic style, balancing sadness, love, camaraderie and comic relief.
In adapting the novel, Rachel Wagstaff altered the temporal sequence of events so that Stephen Wraysford’s (Jonathon Smith) romance with Isabelle Azaire (Sarah Jayne Dunn) is told in retrospective flashbacks.
Whilst a risky move, Wagstaff handled this delicately, making events in the real time of the war seamlessly juxtapose with flashbacks toStephen’s time at the factory. The half hour which focuses on Stephen meeting Isabelle was particularly moving and engrossing, as was the letter scene with its excellent live music.
Director Alastair Whatley’s fantastic use of lighting and set established the smooth, holistic production. Although the set worked as a general warfare background, there were more specific locations around the stage –tunnels, and walls for the refined French house of Monsieur Azaire, the battleground above – which allowed for multiple scenes to play out simultaneously, creating a seamless production with interweaving scenes.
Stephen meeting Isabelle was particularly moving and engrossing.
Lights were excellently executed to aid this division of locations, highlighting specific backdrops for specific scenes, particularly the torch lights for the enclosed atmosphere of the tunnels. Even when characters entered the stage to change the set between scenes, this was done in character, embedding the changes into the performance.
Lead actor Jonathon Smith fell short of depicting a consistently believable Stephen Wraysford.
The ensemble cast was also very impressive. The supporting cast members were continually on top form, and Tim Treloar stole the spotlight as Jack Firebrace, fully inhabiting the role as a solider whose son dies during his time on the front line. Despite this, lead actor Jonathon Smith fell short of depicting a consistently believable Stephen Wraysford.
The role is admittedly complex since flashbacked scenes oscillate between the present and past, but at times Smith woodenly projects his lines to the audience rather than acting and, on occasion, it was difficult to forget that he was an actor playing a role. Nonetheless, there was a clear development in his depiction of Stephen and a certain loveable charm and passion during his love scenes.
Birdsong captures the essence of what both men and women were forced to do to survive The Great War, handling intimate love scenes, boisterous drunken encounters and the reality of fighting a war. It is a story well told which will linger with you long after you see it.
Birdsong runs at Theatre Royal Nottingham until 22nd June 2013. For ticket information click here.
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