This World War 1 drama, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff from Sebastian Faulk’s novel, Birdsong, conveys the horror of war and its futility.
It’s an ambitious play that switches to and from the Western Front, in France, from 1916-1918, to Amiens, in 1910, where the story of Stephen Wraysford (George Banks) unfolds. He is a taut, tense presence, whose pursuit of Isabelle Azaire, the wife of a rich factory owner, is relentless.
Isabelle succumbs, but there is no real sense of what she is about.
Played by Carolyn Stoltz, Isabelle isn’t interesting enough to be an enigma. She tells Stephen that she wants to set him free, so that he can survive. The couple’s love-making scene, serenaded by a violinist, is corny.
The first act goes on too long, but it establishes another character, a working-class miner, Jack Firebrace (Peter Duncan), whose job is to dig tunnels to get near the enemy. Duncan’s performance is stronger than Banks’s, and Jack is a more sympathetic character than the highly strung Stephen.
Jack’s story is revealed through letters from his wife, which he reads aloud. When he learns that his young son is seriously ill in hospital, he prays, and then falls asleep on duty. Stephen, his officer, reprimands him. When Jack tells him about his son, Stephen dismissively says that “half the world is dying.”
The two men are thrown together, fighting for survival. War is a great leveller and the class difference between Stephen and Jack means nothing in the end.
The two characters reveal the terrible damage that the war has done to them. Stephen wonders “if we can call ourselves human,” given the carnage.
The explosive sound effects, with flashes of brilliant colour, are almost too good, making the audience jolt. The set includes a cross. And the question of whether God is present is ongoing.
Runs until Saturday.