Review: Birdsong

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Based on the world famous novel by Sebastian Faulks, “Birdsong” spread its wings to the Darlington Civic Theatre on Tuesday, March 10th, 2015.

The stage show, which marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War, follows young Englishman Stephen Wraysford (portrayed by Edmund Wiseman), who embarks on a passionate and dangerous affair with Isabelle Azaire (Emily Bowker).

Faced with the unprecedented horror of the war, Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle as he leads his men through the carnage of the Battle of the Somme and through the sprawling tunnels that lie deep underground.

Adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff, Birdsong skips between the harsh reality of war in 1916 and (through the use of skilfully portrayed flashbacks) pre-war 1910. Presented as a form of shell-shocked state of mind, the flashbacks are beautifully complimented through the use of props, sounds (Dominic Bilkey) and lighting (Alex Wardle).

Taking place in front of a realistic wartime setting of barbed wire and sandbags,Birdsong brilliantly recaptures the authenticity of the First World War through the sights and sounds. There’s also a strong presence of smells, as the use of cigarettes and other scents enhance the feeling of what life was like in the trenches.

The show is elevated by the intensity of the performances from 12-strong ensemble, which draws the audience in from the outset. Edmund Wiseman is flawless in his role, though it’s former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan who steals the show. His weighty performance as Jack Firebrace is remarkable to watch, especially during a particularly emotive scene in the show’s final act.

“Birdsong” is at the Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday, March 14th, 2015. Further details can be found here.