Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Birdsong


King's Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
There's little in the way of sentimentality in much of the Original 
Theatre Company's new take on Sebastian Faulks' First World War novel 
by writer Rachel Wagstaff. Given that it looks at a doomed love affair 
between English officer Stephen Raysford and Isabelle Azaire, the 
French woman trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage who captivates 
him, this is somewhat surprising. But as the frontline troops let off 
steam with an increasingly desperate-looking sing-song that opens the 
play before marching to their deaths in the Somme, any ideas of a 
conventional war-time romance are instantly blasted into the trenches 
with the emotionally complex grit of what follows.

Where Faulks' story was originally told via a linear narrative, 
Wagstaff's script, revised since Trevor Nunn's original 2010 West End 
production, weaves her characters through time-frames to create an 
ambitiously realised memory play which moves seamlessly between each 
period. Alastair Whatley's fluid production, played out on Victoria 
Spearing's versatile bomb-site of set, focuses as much on Stephen's 
political awakening as much as his emotional one, as he finds empathy 
with squaddies just as Isabelle did with the striking factory workers 
she gave food to.

As Stephen, Jonathan Smith captures just the right balance of lovesick 
obsession and upper-crust bravura. Sarah Jayne Dunn's Isabelle is a 
quietly aloof presence, and a stirring symbol of the purity and passion 
he yearns for. As Stephen clings on to the impossible memory of 
Isabelle, the fragile peace of his own battle-scarred psyche comes into 
question. Ultimately, he survives the tug of love and war, but what's 
clear is how much war messes up the lives of even those it doesn't 
kill.

The Herald, April 10th 2013

ends

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