Birdsong - Review

The trenches of World War One are vividly brought to life – in Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong at the Comedy Theatre in Panton Street, SW1

TRANSFORMING a novel into a play is not the easiest of tasks at the best of times.

So for Rachel Wagstaff to bring a production of renowned novel Birdsong to the stage is a challenge to say the least - Sebastian Faulk’s epic story of life in the trenches and the Battle of the Sommes is one that stays with you.

It is the story of an Englishman, Stephen Wraysford (Ben Barnes), both in France before World War One where he meets and falls in love with a married woman, and then of his experiences during the war.

Ben’s relationship with Isabelle (Genevieve O’Reilly) has a lasting effect throughout his life, but the performances lack the sexually charged chemistry portrayed in the novel.

It is the war scenes where the play takes a hold of the senses, as we are shown the battle of the Somme and the claustrophobic trenches. The horror is captured vividly with the sounds of explosions and howls from the trenches that make the audience jump out of their skin. It is here that Barnes comes into his own as the worn hero, isolated after years of suffering.

But the real star of the show is Lee Ross as sapper Jack Firebrace. His performance is hilarious as he sings raucous numbers to the squaddies and touching to the extreme, as he writes letters to his wife back home in Blighty.

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The stage set is brilliantly conceived, transforming easily from pre-war Amiens to the trenches at the height of the First World War - you really felt like you are in there with the soldiers.

The length of the show at just under three hours is really too long, but all in all this is an enjoyable play which stays true to the original novel.