Reviewed by Louise Watts
It has now been over 100 years since the First World War and there are very few people still alive who will have been directly involved in the dreadful events that occurred during that time. It is essential however that we keep the stories alive by telling our children and grandchildren.
Birdsong was initially a novel written by Sebastian Faulks telling the emotive story of love and loss during the First World War. This has now been adapted for stage by Rachel Wagstaff and the result is an incredibly moving, emotionally provocative story which gets you thinking and feeling what it may have been like for our forces and their families during this awful war.
The story revolves around a group of troupes – some soldiers and some tunnel diggers all aiming to defeat the Germans. Some of the things they experience are simply unimaginable and others you simply would not want to imagine.
The star of the show for me was without a doubt Tim Treloar. Tim played Jack Firebrace, a husband and father of one who used to work on the Underground in London digging tunnels and so is brought to assist with progression underground. He builds up a very close friendship with fellow digger Arthur and one of the most moving scenes for me involves Jack going back into the tunnel after Arthur has been killed in an explosion so that he can retrieve his body. Jack also had a father figure role and took a young soldier under his wing who had lied about his age in order to join the action. Sadly, as the story evolves, Jack receives some bad news which breaks his heart, but what can he do? Tim’s performance was absolutely outstanding and he drew you into what he was feeling, you felt empathy with him and just wanted to be able to comfort him in some way.
The love story evolved between a young English soldier, Stephen Wraysford – played by the rather handsome Tom Kay, and Isabelle Azaire – a young French lady married to a rather unpleasant man who treats her disgracefully. Madeleine Knight plays Isabelle and wow what an actress she is. They fall in love which ends unexpectedly but then later in the war, they meet again. She has by then moved on and their love is not rekindled. At the end of the show, Stephen receives some bittersweet news that will change his life going forward forever. Tom played Stephen very well but at times, it was difficult to hear him which was a shame.
All the actors were incredible, and the story was completely believable. Special mention must go to James Findlay who sang and played the violin absolutely beautifully. When he sang, if you closed your eyes and imagined the scene, you could believe you were actually there in the War on the Front line.
The show moves between the present and the past. In my experience with this, I have often struggled following the story in the theatre when this happens, however on this occasion it worked. I discussed with my friend after why it worked. We could not explain it in words, we just agreed that it did – clearly Rachel has got that exactly right.
The most thought-provoking scene for me was at the end when Stephen is saved from the collapsed tunnel by a German soldier. The war had ended and there was no reason for them not to be friendly. A few days earlier they would have killed each other without a second thought, now they talk and hug. Mind blowing really!
The set was beautiful. One backdrop and several reusable props but it looked fantastic. The tunnels were incredible, and you could feel your imagination in overdrive thinking of what it would have been like to have spent all day underground, never knowing whether you would actually see the light of day again.
The Capitol theatre, Horsham is a lovely venue. There is a coffee shop and a bar where you can buy drinks and snacks. Parking is easy in the car parks close to the theatre and they are free after 5pm. The theatre is small and intimate, but it was lovely to see it packed out for the opening night of this incredible show. The staff were polite and friendly and willing to assist with any issues or questions.
I would thoroughly recommend this show to anyone who has an interest in war time experiences. It was an absolute delight to watch and I will be thinking about the events that occurred within the show for a few days to come. There are a few “naughty” scenes, so it is certainly not suitable for young children and you have to be able to deal with the emotions that will arise as a result of the issues that happen, so it is not for the emotionally immature.
Tickets cost from £17 to £26.50 (booking fees may apply).
Birdsong is at The Capitol in Horsham from 23-28 April 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thecapitolhorsham.com or call the box office on 01403 750220.
The Capitol Horsham, North Street, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 1RG | 01403 750220