Review: Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks and adapted by Rachel Wagstaff, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, March 25, until Saturday March 30

Birdsong at the New Wolsey Theatre

Birdsong at the New Wolsey Theatre - Credit: Archant

Review: Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks and adapted by Rachel Wagstaff, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, March 25, until Saturday March 30

Tim Treloar in Birdsong at the New Wolsey Theatre

Tim Treloar in Birdsong at the New Wolsey Theatre - Credit: Archant

Birdsong is a performance of high drama that attempts a glimpse at the unspeakable horror that was the First World War. We approach the Centenary of that theatre of military lunacy with incredulity, an emotion that was not far from the surface of the cast as they brought Sebastian Faulks’s novel to life. Adapted by Rachel Wagstaff, the action takes place on the Western Front in France between 1916 and 1918.

Jonathan Smith portrays the officer hero Stephen Wraysford as a confused but driven young man who falls hopelessly in love with a married Frenchwoman, Isabelle Azaire (Sarah Jayne Dunn), whom he meets in Amiens in 1910. Flashbacks to their affair are woven into the run-up to the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

The company gave brilliant portrayals of life among the men who tunnelled deep underground, chief among them Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar). Jack’s personal tragedy appeared unendurable yet he dropped to his knees and prayed not for self deliverance but commended his son dying back home into God’s eternal care. Firebrace and Wraysford form a special bond amongst men united in enduring a common misery.

When terror stalks the mind, humour is the only remedy: Tim Van Eyken gave us an earthy and wryly funny Evans, with some realistically trenchant language, and Arthur Bostrom’s Frenchman Berard was an absolute delight.


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Without Victoria Spearing’s superb set design and the frighteningly realistic sound effects by Dominic Bilkey, the piece would have been a lesser production. If there was a flaw the love dance between Stephen and Isabelle seemed to belong to another play. Intended as a contrast it instead became a distraction.

Ipswich audiences know what to do with a sterling performance and most were on their feet at the final applause.

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Carol Twinch

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