Tuesday, July 5

Birdsong – Original Theatre Company Online

Written by Sebastian Faulks and adapted by Rachel Wagstaff, Birdsong was first staged by Original Theatre and toured between 2013 and 2018.  It was hugely successful with 4- and 5-star reviews and was seen by more than 250,000 people in 75 theatres across the UK and Ireland.

As we pass the 104th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, this play is a timely reminder of the severe loss of life between 1st July and 18th November 1916.  On the first day of battle a man was killed every 4.4 seconds, the bloodiest single day in the history of the British Army.  The battle was described by war poet Siegfried Sassoon as a “sunlit picture of hell”.

The play begins in France 1916. The Sappers (a team of ex-miners) were conscripted as tunnellers, setting mines and helping to breach fortifications.  Jack (Tim Treloar), Arthur (Liam McCormick) and Evans (Samuel Martin) work in shifts underground barely seeing sunlight and their only link with the outside world is letters they receive from home.  The officer in charge Stephen Wraysford (Tom Kay) lives for his memories of Isabelle (Madeleine Knight), the wife of Rene Azaire (Stephen Boxer) who mistreated Isabelle and this ill treatment led to Stephen and Isabelle’s passionate affair.

Amidst the fighting, the men rally their spirits by telling each other jokes and Cartwright (James Findlay) sings songs and plays his violin, which is very touching.  There are many poignant moments in this play, but the feeling of desolation at the huge loss of men and disbelief in what they have seen is etched on the men’s faces.  They know they will probably never see their family again and wonder if their lives would be worth living if they did survive – they cannot unsee what they have seen.

The narration by Sebastian Faulks during the interval is touching and the backdrop of the grey fields with red poppies is so simple but tells its own story – a homage to the British Legion who helped soldiers suffering in the aftermath of the First World War.

This quotation from the play sums up the feeling of the soldiers that go home.  ‘We will go quietly among the living.  We will talk and sleep and go about our business, like human beings.  We will seal what we have seen, in the silence of our hearts and no words will reach us.’

In the world of virtual theatre, this is by far the best production that I have seen so far and raises the bar considerably.  The attention to detail with costumes by Siobhan Boyd, the digital scenery design by David Woodhead and sound (which created the atmosphere of the battlefield) by Dom Bilkey.   Alistair Whatley and Charlotte Peters can be immensely proud of their directing skills on this production which shows their dedication and also acts as a reminder of a past we may wish to forget.

Monumental performances by the cast give their audience an emotional, thought provoking piece of theatre which can also be attributed to the excellent book written by Sebastian Faulks and the adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff.

I highly recommend this production, but as it only has a short run, you will need to be quick as it ends on 4th July 2020.  To buy a ticket go to   https://originaltheatreonline.com/productions/1/birdsong-online-uk-only

Reviewer: Caroline Worswick

Reviewed: 1st July 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★

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