Review: Birdsong

Comedy Theatre, London, 31 December 2010

Rating: * * * *

The final words of the Birdsong echoed the audience’s own sentiments. After such a powerful performance every audience member was a little quieter than before.

Adapted last year by St Andrews’s own Rachel Wagstaff from the epic novel by Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong was brought to life by director Trevor Nunn over the winter season of 2010-11. Haunted by the sound of birdsong and a fear of entrapment, in the first act the young Stephen Wraysford (Ben Barnes) spends an idyllic few months in summertime France, where he becomes drawn into a deep affair with his host’s wife Isabelle, a beautiful but hesitant woman played by Genevieve O’Reilly.

In the second act, Barnes’s wonderfully awkward and uncertain portrayal of Stephen reaches a new peak as country gardens are replaced by the trenches of the First World War. In a convincing and moving performance, the audience, with the assistance of an impressively intricate set design, is immersed in the horror of the war, and watches Stephen journey towards redemption. Credit must also be given to Lee Ross’s memorable performance as Jack Firebrace, as well as that of Isabelle’s sister, Jeanne, played by Zoë Waites. In fact, each and every performance seemed worth noting: there is not space here to give credit to them all.

Of course we could never understand what our soldiers went through in the horror of the First World War; but both Faulks’s and Wagstaff’s words, combined with Nunn’s direction and an incredible ensemble, were able to bring the audience close, if only for a few hours.

Alex Mullarky

Image: Andreas Kollegger