Birdsong at the Bristol Old Vic Review

Old Vic, Bristol

27 April to 9 May 2015


Reviewed by Siobhan Bridgwater

It is a long time since I have visited the Bristol Old Vic by the Floating Harbour. We parked close by on the impressive Queens Square with its imposing historical buildings and strolled the short walk through passage ways to the cobbled Kings Street. The evening, which was about to unfold in one of Bristol’s beautiful theatres, was the touching and thought-provoking stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong.

The wonderful stage set, dramatic lighting and disturbing sounds of gunfire and explosions quickly draws the audience in to glimpse the true horrors and despair of war as this epic story is played out. The story is based around an unusual, emotionally suppressed young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford (Edmund Wiseman), who falls madly in love with the wife of his host, Rene Azaire (James Staddon), whilst staying with his family in pre-war France. The stunning and charitable Isabelle Azaire (Emily Bowker), in her unforgettable blood red and bandage white dress, trapped in a violent marriage, finally succumbs to Stephen’s advances as their doomed love affair is shown in a series of flashbacks before and during the Great War. Alongside that, are some telling peeks into the wrenched lives of a few other soldiers facing the Battle of the Somme as they dig their underground tunnels towards their German counterparts in a disastrous game of cat and mouse mine warfare.

The stage adaptation of this hugely successful novel is simply enthralling, edge-of-your-seat stuff. The acting by the small cast (including the author on the opening and second night) is superb. The letters to and from the soldier’s loved ones, which litter the play, shine a light on the overwhelming impact of war on both the troops and their families torn apart by mental scars and grief. Captivating performance throughout the whole cast including Peter Duncan, unrecognisable from his Blue Peter days, and Liam McCormick.

The cast of the 2015 UK Tour of Birdsong
Photo Credit Jack Ladenburg

Musical pieces on the melodeon and violin, wonderfully performed by James Findlay, add to an atmosphere of hopelessness and loss.

It is a very fitting tribute to the hundreds of thousands of men who lost their lives in one of our history’s bloodiest and most futile battles, as the soldiers were mostly unable to penetrate the German barbed wire fence. It is a stark reminder in a beautifully crafted piece of theatre.

Highly recommended.

Rating: 5/5 thumbs_up

Tickets cost from £7.50 to £27.50 (plus £1.50 booking fee).

Birdsong is at the Old Vic in Bristol until 9 May 2015. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0117 987 7877.

Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED | 0117 987 7877


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