Friday, 16 March 2018

REVIEW: Birdsong at New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Birdsong is a tragic war-time tale with love at its heart. Written by Sebastian Faulks, his epic novel takes place primarily on the Western front, France between 1916-1918, with flashbacks to 1910 Amiens, France where the story of Stephen Wraysford is remembered as he meets and falls in love with Isabelle Azaire, a wealthy factory owner’s wife. 

This play is harrowing and emotionally draining (as any good WW1 piece should be). The set was superb – designed to look like the inside wall of a British trench, before magnificently yet simply transforming to underground tunnels, Somme countryside and even a luxury master-bedroom. Director Alastair Whatley (with Charlotte Peters) have done a magnificent job is bringing this stage adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff to life. The underground scenes were very well staged and suitably oppressive. I found myself crooking my neck downwards as if I were underground with the soldiers. Whatley’s job went far beyond Director for Monday night’s performance as he stepped in at last minute to perform the leading role of Stephen Wraysford which must be commended.

The use of music was superb; folk songs played simply on the violin and sung as a chorus gave a real sense of camaraderie and unity in the trenches, making it all the more emotionally poignant when a member of this team was lost to the war. As a cast, together the ensemble are magnificent. James Findlay was a wonderful musician, Alfie Browne-Sykes as the youthful Tipper was superb but it was Tim Treloar as Jack Firebrace who stole my attentions. His performance was immense; deeply rousing and poignant, yet light-hearted and warm in all the right places. I was so impressed by him and would love to see more of his work in the future. 

Birdsong has lots of components for a great performance but there’s something
a little flat, particularly in the second act: perhaps the lack of music in contrast to Act 1? There are poignant moments beautifully executed, but sadly many were thrown away. I shall avoid spoilers but Isabelle’s fortune and later life should be a huge revelation and shocking moment for the audience, but this sadly did not resonate. Similarly, elements which should have welcomed silence were met with a quiet hum of nervous laughter as people were unsure how to react. 

Overall this piece has massive potential and is wonderfully educational, even if just for the context of what those trenches might have been like for the British men who fought for Queen and Country in WW1. 

Poignant in parts but overall, un-polished. 

Review by Harriet Langdown 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: G36, Stalls   Price of ticket: £29.90
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