Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks adapted by Rachel Wagstaff
The Mission Theatre
Birdsong is a popular and successful novel. A love story mingled with the brutality and reality of the trenches and the Battle of the Somme. The play focuses the action in the British trenches and behind the lines in France from 1916 – 1918 with earlier romantic events shown in flashback.
This is a hugely difficult play to stage, given its episodic nature and filmic quality. The constant flashbacks need to fit seamlessly into the action without breaking the flow of the script.
Ann Ellison, directing has achieved a great balance with the use of the stage area in The Mission and the action is able to move fluidly between the defined performance spaces. An atmospheric lighting design from Kris Nutall brings depth to the piece alongside a versatile set design.
The piece is lead with true style and conviction by Richard Matthews (Jack Firebrace) and Chris Constantine (Lieutenant Stephen Wraysford.) Both men are linked by their goodness and desire to save others and tormented by the ravages of war. Hayley Fitton – Cook (Isabelle Azaire) allows the romance with Wraysford to develop under the watchful gaze of her brutal husband (Bob Constantine) and his ever present friend, Bernard (Reynold Leming.)
As always, supporting roles are well defined and the company work is excellent. Ben Armstrong (Private Arthur Shaw) is a loyal and faithful support to Firebrace and as the play reaches its conclusion there is much to consider.
Aside from the immense loss of life in the Somme campaign, Birdsong considers the loneliness and worries of the soldiers; the injustice of rank and the many questions that must have been asked by those who gave their lives so valiantly. This is a thought provoking play reflecting some of the very darkest days of World War 1.