Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 29th May, 2013. To read the original, please click here.
Sebastian Faulks‘ 1993 novel WW1 novel Birdsong was ranked 13 in the BBC’s The Big Read, a survey to find Britain’s most loved novel, just ten years after publication. The regard to which Faulk’s masterpiece is held in is not just limited to readers; while critics have swooned over the novel, it has also been adapted for radio, for the stage and, perhaps most recently, for television. Set mainly during 1916 – 1918 at the Western Front in France, it quite wonderfully details the human cost and personal tragedies of ordinary men in an extraordinary situation.
Rachel Wagstaff’s adaptation is brilliantly structured; each story and subplot is interwoven with great skill and narrative understanding. The apocalyptic and horrific nature of war is wonderfully illustrated by a deafening soundtrack and by haunting lights, which visualize air strikes with vividness. Death looms large, hanging over the production like a vulture. Upstage center, a fence post is planted in the ground like a cross. True, the first half is slightly longer than it should be, though this is to be expected from an adaptation from a novel that is over 400 pages in length.
There is, however, humor peppered throughout the production. The the jests and jokes, however, never undermine the solemn tone of the setting and subject at hand. Indeed, since most of the action revolves around underground mines that were planted under the German trenches, the suspension throughout is generated organically; through the actors’ moments under the mines and in areas of the stage the audience cannot see.
The only place where the production is dulled is by the love affair between Wraysford (Jonathan Smith) and Isabelle (Sarah Jayne Dunn), which, though central to the narrative, never quite rings true. The affair is also overshadowed by a brilliant ensemble cast; at times, the richness of the acting and the chemistry between all the actors reaches the heights of a world class Shakespearean production. Moments between the actors, particularly those scenes between Tim Treloar who plays Jack Firebrace and the selected members of the cast with whom he has scenes, are brilliantly executed. The monologues are also excellently delivered, bringing a stillness and elegiac weight to what is an otherwise busy and slick production.
Bound to be enjoyed by those who hold Faulks’ novel dear and who watch period dramas, such as Downton Abbey, Birdsong is a well – rounded, fluid production which will no doubt remind audiences of the sacrifices and horrors imposed on men in war and the life or death choices made by those in the trenches and those who are in love.
Birdsong runs in The Gaiety Theatre from 28th May – 1st June at 7.30. Tickets: €25 – €40. For more information go to www.gaietytheatre.ie
Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
Wrtitten by: Novel by Sebastian Faulks, Stage Version Rachel Wagstaff
Directed by: Alastair Whatley
Cast: Sarah Jayne Dunn from Drop Dead Gorgeous /Hollyoaks, Eastender’s star Charlie G. Hawkins and Arthur Bostrom from ‘Allo ‘Allo