birds mal


Malvern Theatres


One hundred years since the end of the First World War, the most horrendous and momentous war in history in many respects, is rightly commemorated to honour the millions of lives sacrificed for no meaningful reason.

The success of ‘Birdsong’ as a novel has been furthered by this excellent adaptation for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff.

The story focuses on the fictional story of Stephen Wraysford. Stephen falls in love with Isabelle, the married woman whose heartless husband abuses her. Eventually they elope and live together for a while before she leaves and returns to her family.

Later during the war she becomes entangled with a young German and follows him to Germany. The play flits between Stephen’s wartime experiences and the earlier time when he lived in Amiens and grew in his relationship with Isabelle.

The story of their tortured relationship and the horrendous impact of trench warfare on the young men of Stephen’s generation is conveyed with powerful poignancy by this production. As the play draws to a close, it is said, ‘Seal what we have seen in the silence of our hearts, and no words will reach us.’ The play defies that for the audience.

The impact is greatly enhanced by the design, the lighting and the sound effects. The sounds of powerful explosions, the distant rattle and rumble of gun and artillery fire, the ultimate use of birdsong, all mix with the hymns, songs, excellent solos, group humming and harmonies, sometimes accompanied by the violin played sensitively by James Findlay to achieve a very strong dramatic effect.

The lighting is sensitively designed to achieve excellent effects without distracting from the action. The silhouette at the end of Act One is brilliant.

The set is likewise cleverly designed to provide a variety of contexts. The farmhouse, the trenches, the scenes in the inn, tunnels under No Mans Land are all provided with minimal fuss or changes.

This is all brought together, along with subtle costume design, by the excellent direction of Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters. The pace, energy and cohesion are vital to the dramatic life of the play.

In a strong cast, the three principals are outstanding. Madeleine Knight’s (Isabelle) stillness and emotional tension are beautifully conveyed without overstatement. Tom Kay as Stephen Wraysford is a tortured and anguished soul, passionate, eccentric and intense. His performance seems to grow through the evening. Tim Treloar as Jack Firebrace was outstanding. His diction was a little tricky in the pub scenes, but his energy and characterful epitome of the British Tommy were brilliant. His tender feelings for his family and his mates, his loyalty, faith and unselfishness were dramatically conveyed.

This touring production is not to be missed. It is an episodic and impressionistic view of life in the First World War that manages to avoid being overly sentimental, while leaving a very profound impression through the confluence of poignant story, strong visual and auditory images and excellent acting. To 30-06-18.

Timothy Crow


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