The New Alexandra Theatre


Rachel Wagstaff’s stage version of Sebastian Faulk’s bestselling book  is creative, captivating and highly emotional. Set on the Western Front, France during the First World War, it tells the story of Stephen Wraysford, a lieutenant in the British Army, as he and his men endure the ravages and trauma of war and reflect on their lives, loves and families.

Victoria Spearing’s multipurpose set is impressive and inspired, with archways, tunnels, barbed wire and a wooden cross silhouetted against an ever-changing skyline.

Props and basic furnishings are brought on and off stage in a slick and unobtrusive manner by the cast, instantly transporting the audience to the many different settings; the officers’ quarters, a French drinking house, a mansion in Amiens, the tunnels beneath the battlefields, and the trenches at the Somme.

Alex Wardle’s lighting design is atmospheric and imaginative; add to that the excellence of a Dominic Bilkey’s explosive sound design and the set comes alive.

Wraysford’s story is entangled with that of sapper Jack Firebrace, who encounter each other for the first time when Wraysford finds Firebrace asleep whilst on guard duty. 

Firebrace had volunteered for guard duty despite hours of digging the tunnels and planting mines beneath German trenches. Despite the threat of it from Wraysford, Firebrace escapes a court martial and their two lives become entwined.

Tim Treloar, as fatherly figure Firebrace and Tom Kay, as Stephen Wraysford play their roles with great skill and intensity as they take the audience through the full gamut of human emotions.

Stepheand Isabelle

 Madeleine Knight as Isabelle and Tom Kay as Wraysford

Wraysford falls in love and has an adulterous affair with Isabelle Azaire, when he stays with her and her husband (a cruel textile factory owner) in their mansion in Amiens in 1910.  Isabelle is played beautifully and convincingly by Madeleine Knight, as her character moves from passion to despair.

The staging for the frequent flashbacks to this time is clever and imaginative, ensuring there is no confusion or loss of pace.  Well choreographed and perfectly executed slowing and speeding up of movements allow the characters to cross the stage together in an almost ghostly manner, successfully differentiating between time zones.

This emotionally charged production is an incredible depiction of the devastation of war and its destructive qualities, not only to human life but also to the human psyche. 

A deeply moving theatrical piece superbly acted by every member of the cast, each telling their characters’ own tragic stories.  It would be impossible to capture every detail of Faulks’s novel into the script and staging of this two and half hour long play and therefore Wagstaff has had to make essential edits, but this has certainly not watered down the intensity of the work.  

The second act does feel a little hurried at times and therefore loses a little of the emotional impact of the opening act, but given the highly emotional ending to the first act it would be very difficult to raise the audience emotions any further.

Birdsong is without a doubt an exceptional and explosive piece of theatre. To 23-06-18

Rosemary Manjunath


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