BIRDSONG: Adapted by Rachel Wagstaff from the novel by Sebastian Faulks
Runs: 2h 40m, one interval
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, Birmingham Rep, 18 03 14
A sadly missed opportunity
Always extremely well performed this adaptation is surprisingly disappointing. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge theatre adaptions by their original books . . . but Faulks’s novel is deeply, profoundly moving – which is just what this adaption is not. It’s unsettling.
It feels as if the actors are imprisoned by the drama. Rachel Wagstaff is trying too hard to reflect the interweaving threads of Faulks’s original, the result is a theatrical narrative which is puzzling as we try to sort out what is happening to whom and crucially when.
As the on-stage narrative continues scenes are too short to enable the performance to draw us in to the characters’ lives; high emotions are not adequately built towards, and because we are shut out, they appear stagey – which they aren’t.
There is a lengthy sequence towards the end in which the soldiers are trapped in the tunnels; a desperate attempt to escape is successful, but not without loss of life. Here we have enough time to share the characters’ dilemma, to empathise, to sense the absolute horror of this event. But it comes far too late to save this pedestrian adaptation.
What a shame! The acting space is filled with strong and committed performances. George Banks captures the tortured mind of Stephen Wraysford perfectly. Also making more than their mark are Jonny Clarke as Tipper, Samuel Martin as Evans, and Peter Duncan as a very fine Jack.
Victoria Spearing’s set is atmospheric, but rather obvious. The same of which can be said of Alastair Whatley’s direction.
A visit to the play isn’t a waste of time; but the whole project deserves to have been done a great deal better.
Stephen Wraysford: George Banks..
Isabelle Azaire / Elizabeth: Caroline Stoltz
Lisette Azaire: Selma Brook
Tipper / Gregoire: Jonny Clarke
Jeanne Fourmentier: Elizabeth Croft
Jack Firebrace: Peter Duncan
Marguerite: Lucy Grattan
Rene Azaire / Captain Gray: Maslcolm James
Arthur Shaw: Simon Lloyd
Evans: Samuel Martin
Berard / Barclay: James Staddon
Levi: Alastair Whatley
Director: Alastair Whatley
Set Designer: Victoria Spearing
Original Costume Design: Ed Holland
Lighting Design: Alex Ward
Associate Lighting Design: Jenny Harris
Sound Design: Dominic Bilkey
Movement Director: Lucie Pankhurst
Military Advisor: Tony Green
Director of Stage Combat: Tim Klotz-Davenport
Music Director: Tim Van Eyken