Thursday, 23 September 2010

Birdsong by Rachel Wagstaff at The Comedy Theatre

Passion, forbidden love and brutality of the battleground
Ben Barnes says: "It's amazing how many people have tapped into this book as something that feels very personal to them, even though it's fictional." in BBC News interview. This stage version of Sebastian Faulk’s best-loving novel, is able to convey this very feeling.  The love-war tale against a war backdrop is epic. Gripping scenes transport the viewer, between the tearful love story and the tragedies of war.

The use of juxtaposition from one scene to another adds to the vulnerable state of the characters and delicate situations they face. The acting is successful in conveying the journeys of love and war faced and how in turn, these mature them. 

Costumes add to the beautiful simplicity: Lisette’s white garments contrasting with Isabella’s splashes of red. Battleground and trench scene attire bring forward to uniform-like nature of the situation, with little difference between the men: They all face the same daily living nightmare. 

Depictions of life on the trenches and the battles are recreated through outstanding set designs. The juxtaposition of clear daylight, fresh air and laughter of previous scenes with Isabella and Stephen with those of cramp and dimly lit underground trenches is a stark reminder of the life thousands of soldiers lived through. In addition to this, the birdsong that is heard and echoed on the empty, silent battlefield is chilling to the bones and reminiscent of Faulk’s harrowing descriptions of the scenes at the Somme. 

Transporting you emotionally, the sounds and lighting augment the reality. The roll of names of officers killed during the Battle of the Somme, with the simplicity of the stage is harrowing. The manner in which the names are called out in subsequent order, with a distinct lack of emotion highlights the futility of war and disturbing realism of the number of lives lost.

The entrapment scene with Stephen and Jack is particularly commendable. The acting is magnificent, showcasing the camaraderie between soldiers in situations of life and death. This followed by a striking field of red poppies on a bed of grass. A perfect ending to a remarkable show.   

Poignant, enthralling and beautifully acted. Not to be missed.


Cast: The stage version has been penned by Rachel Wagstaff, with Trevor Nunn directing. Alongside Barnes, the cast includes Nicholas Farrell (Chariots of Fire), Iain Mitchell (La Cage Aux Folles), Genevieve O'Reilly (Spooks) Lee Ross (EastEnders) and Zoe Waites (The Other Boleyn Girl).

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