BWW Reviews: BIRDSONG, January 25 2013, Haymarket, Basingstoke
Sebastian Faulks' story of sacrifice, courage and, above all, love will undeniably play with the emotions of any audience member. Englishman Stephen Wraysford leads his men through the Battle of the Somme, whilst passionate and sensitive memories of his former lover Isabelle Azaire replay in his mind.
The Original Theatre Company, directed by Alastair Whatley, revives this play in a touring version. Unlike the 2010 version, adaptor Rachel Wagstaff rewrote the story so it doesn't run in chronological order. The play opens in 1916, reconciling the piece as a memory play. Then in the build-up to The Somme, Stephen experiences different incidents in the trenches that unravel fragmented flashbacks of his life leading up to his time during 'The Great War'. The story leaps around, leaving some confusion to begin with, but it keeps you anxious of what is yet to come. Wagstaff's rewrite cleverly sieves specks of information to the audience, only to be completely unravelled in the final few scenes.
JoNathan Smith as Wraysford had a fairly disappointing monotone voice throughout the majority of the performance; however, the truth behind his eyes was undeniably exceptional. He was captivating to watch and had a suitable chemistry with Sarah Jayne Dunn, who played Isabelle Azaire. Looking past the shaky French accent that her and a few of her co-stars had, Dunn embraced the complexity of her character. Despite spending the majority of her time just exiting the stage, she was strong and held more depth than I expected.
Much credit must go the rest of the cast: with only 12 members, they managed to recreate many different angles of World War 1. Not only did we skip between the trenches and French home life, but we were introduced to German soldiers, underground tunnels, going 'over the top' and the music that came in this brutal time. With a few actor musicians playing the violin and accordion, this talented ensemble brought the play to life. Eerie songs set the scenes during dire times, whilst uplifting music hall songs gave the deception of a war that will be easily won.
There is no doubt that the set was incredible; Victoria Spearing designed a realistic trench at the back of the stage which attached to a stylish French village balcony on stage left. Visually the production was close to perfect.
Involving such a well-known period like World War 1 is a great challenge for any play. Although visually the play was beautifully bittersweet, I often wondered why I wasn't moved as much as I normally am at such historical dramas. This play has the potential to bring an audience to tears and really make everyone stop and think about their everyday lives incomparisson to the suffering in those times. But as of yet it is not quite there; I only hope that as the tour progresses so will this production.