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Birdsong gets outstanding reviews

Posted: Tuesday 27 June, 2017

Next Stage's production of Birdsong has proved very popular with audience members and reviewers alike so far this week. Well done to all involved!

Birdsong is a popular and successful novel. A love story mingled with the brutality and reality of the trenches and the Battle of the Somme. The play focuses the action in the British trenches and behind the lines in France from 1916 – 1918 with earlier romantic events shown in flashback.

This is a hugely difficult play to stage, given its episodic nature and filmic quality. The constant flashbacks need to fit seamlessly into the action without breaking the flow of the script.

Ann Ellison, directing, has achieved a great balance with the use of the stage area in The Mission and the action is able to move fluidly between the defined performance spaces. An atmospheric lighting design from Kris Nuttall brings depth to the piece alongside a versatile set design.

The piece is lead with true style and conviction by Richard Matthews (Jack Firebrace) and Chris Constantine (Lieutenant Stephen Wraysford). Both men are linked by their goodness and desire to save others and tormented by the ravages of war. Hayley Fitton-Cook (Isabelle Azaire) allows the romance with Wraysford to develop under the watchful gaze of her brutal husband (Bob Constantine) and his ever present friend, Berard (Reynold Leming).

As always, supporting roles are well defined and the company work is excellent. Ben Armstrong (Private Arthur Shaw) is a loyal and faithful support to Firebrace and as the play reaches its conclusion there is much to consider.

Aside from the immense loss of life in the Somme campaign, Birdsong considers the loneliness and worries of the soldiers; the injustice of rank and the many questions that must have been asked by those who gave their lives so valiantly. This is a thought provoking play reflecting some of the very darkest days of World War One.

Petra Schofield

To say that staging Birdsong at The Mission Theatre is ambitious would be an understatement. Luckily for us, the audience, it is managed wonderfully well.
Set in France before between 1910 and 1918 the action follows Englishman Stephen Wraysford having an affair with the wife of his employer at Amiens before the war, subsequently returning there as an officer at the Somme, where acquaintances resume.

Constant flashbacks require two sets plus a very large cast and somehow these are accommodated. Highly effective sound effects, lighting and costumes help make it all work.

While there are obviously echoes of Journey’s End, this is really a love sto-ry. Chris Constantine (Stephen Wraysford) is on stage for virtually the whole time and is impeccable, but the glue in the trenches is provided by Richard Matthews in a remarkable performance as sapper Jack Firebrace.

There are outstanding individual portraits, often heavy on pathos, from all the cast in this complex but compelling tale which commands attention from
beginning to the end. Amazing.

Afterwards the play is moving on to the Minack in Cornwall where the larger stage may make it even more impressive.

Not a play to be missed – if you can get a seat.

Philip Horton

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