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Review: Birdsong



Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre

Having read the novel and absolutely loved it, I was ready for an evening of tears and emotion, I really wanted to become completely engrossed in this play, become attached to the characters and have the characters I had envisaged brought to life. However, for me, this production fell slightly short on this front.

Birdsong explores the life of Stephen Wraysford ( Jonathan Smith)before and during the First World War, following the love story between him and Isobelle Azaire (Sarah Jane Dunn) in an array of clever flashbacks from the trenches before the Battle of the Somme to France 1912 where he was sent there to work for Isobelle’s tyrannical husband, Rene.

It also explores his difficulties in commanding and building relationships with the soldiers in the trenches as well as the lives of the men digging tunnels towards the Germans.

There were some scenes which truly were mesmerising and brilliantly conceived.

The end of the first half was beautiful with incredible singing and violin by Joshua Higgott and the rest of the case which made the scene atmospheric and poignant as we listened to the characters reading the letters they had written home to their loved ones before they “went over the top”.

Other memorable moments also included the men climbing over the top of the trenches which could have been awkward and unimpressive with such a small cast but instead was cleverly portrayed in silhouette.

However, some of the other scenes were uncomfortable or lacking feeling. In particular was a very odd and confusing sex scene between Stephen and Isobelle which was a strange mix of interpretive dance and snippets of love making. I understand that this has perhaps been done to make it more accessible for the younger audience but instead I think it made it more uncomfortable and left some of the audience sniggering.


Tim Treloar as tunnel digger Jack Firebrace is really the main driving force in the production. His story revolves around his wish to go home to his wife and sick son. However, some of his speeches feel stilted and difficult to deliver in character as much of his lines are very descriptive and are possibly taken directly from the pros of the book and it therefore felt that he slipped into an unnamed narrator role.

Standout performances from the supporting case include Poppy Roe as Jeanne, Isabelle’s sister and Charlie G Hawkin as the too-young-for-war Tipper. Many members of the cast also managed to double up their roles, switching seamlessly between accents, never allowing any confusion about who they were.

The star of the show was undoubtedly the set and lighting by Victoria Spearing and Alex Wardle. Although the claustrophobia of the tunnels was lacking, an excellent job was done of creating a set which easily switched between trenches, tunnels and an affluent French mansion.

This is unquestionably a brilliant story and is still worth taking school children to see as part of a GCSE English or history project.

However, it lacked the emotion and heart wrenching feelings resulting in a flood of tears which I expected.

Rhiannon Lawson

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