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Review: Birdsong

An outstanding piece of Drama Barn theatre that perfectly captures the tumultuous dynamics of World War One. Lucie Parker reviews.

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Director: Connor Abbott
Producers: Laurel Hill and Henrietta Mitchell
Venue: Drama Barn

Birdsong, Rachel Wagstaff's play adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' famous novel, is an outstanding piece of drama that perfectly captures the tumultuous dynamics of World War One. We follow the journey of Stephen Wraysford (Jason Ryall), a lieutenant in the trenches helplessly trapped in a paradox between love and war. Haunted by an illicit affair with past love, Isabelle Azaire (Zoe Biles), the audience experiences the life of Wraysford divided between past and present as he spends the war desperately searching for reconciliation and understanding. Intertwined with Wraysford's increasing bitterness and isolation are the lives of his soldiers, whose juxtaposing portrayals of humourous comradeship and the disintegration of morale at the Somme reinforce the cruelty of war.

This was an ambitious choice of play for the small space of the drama barn, yet the faultlessly smooth set changes combined with the innovative creativity behind the set design itself propel the audience firsthand into a comprehensive wartime environment. Particularly impressive is the miner-housing tunnel setup, with the simple use of a white translucent sheet successfully creating the illusion of a separate location to the rest of the barn, it is aesthetically brilliant. Another striking feature is the wooden board filled with rows of names to commemorate those soldiers that have died. The constant presence of this prop throughout evoked a sombre and tangible reminder of the story's reality, causing a wave of Remembrance Day melancholy amongst all.

The combination of a beautifully heartbreaking storyline and an effective set is the foundation upon which the acting flourishes. The chemistry between the soldiers creates a real sense of comradeship and bravery, with humour used as a defence weapon to evoke the raw emotion felt when faced with the possibility of death. Jack Firebrace (Iain Campbell) and Arthur Shaw (Andy Bewley) in particular have a significant bond that personifies the meaningful and necessary sudden friendships that so many relied upon during the war. The star of the show was Jason Ryall as Wraysford, whose strong portrayal of passion and despair reaches a climax when he is reunited with Isabelle (Zoe Biles), a scene of heart-wrenching anguish that reduced the audience to tears. An evocative and astute representation of the tangled emotions of war, Birdsong is not one to be missed.

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