Anyone who has read Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong knows that it is a heart rending masterpiece that takes your breath away. Very few people would be able to translate something that powerful into script, and fewer theatre companies would be able to perform that script to a standard which rendered a theatre full of people breathless and silent.
So well done to Rachel Wagstaff and The Original Theatre Company & Birdsong Productions. You’ve created a masterpiece.
The story is beautifully complemented by epistolary monologues and flashbacks, with full use being made of lighting and off screen sound which ensures that there is no confusion as time shifts between the period prior to and during the “Great War”. And of course, there is the haunting background sound of birdsong, an echo of the wide ranging bird imagery in the original novel.
Each member of the cast performs their role seamlessly and consistently but Edmund Wiseman is particularly wonderful in the role of Stephen. He wears variations of his army uniform throughout the play, a clever reminder in the happier scenes of the coming of the war. Hate and love, life and death, pain and pleasure are often featured side by side on stage, the contrasts highlighting the horrors suffered by Stephen and the other characters.
If I had one criticism, it would be that in some ways the end of the novel feels slightly more positive than the end of play, but the poignancy achieved by the ending was nevertheless beautiful, haunting and, like the end of the war, emotionally startling.
If you’ve read the book, go see the play and, if you haven’t read the book, go see it anyway. It’s one of the finest pieces of theatre in our generation, as well as an amazing tribute to a lost generation.
If you like Birdsong, both Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy and Danny Scheinmann’s Random Acts of Heroic Love also both tell the heart breaking story of love during the Great War.
Copyright, D M Day, 2015