IT’S the most poignant of plays.
The approaching anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War adds even more meaning to the revised live touring version of Birdsong, which marks the centenary in memorable fashion.
Members of the appreciative audience were left choked by last night’s lengthy Theatre Royal opener, which now strikes just the right chord for fans of the bestselling Sebastian Faulks novel, set mainly on the Western Front.
Birdsong begins with the bombardment already under way and Stephen Wraysford (George Banks, a fitting English officer) is soon seen lying seriously injured in a field hospital.
In his delirious state, he clings to memories of a passionate and dangerous affair with Isabelle Azaire (a convincing Caroline Stoltz) in pre-war France, the scenes flitting manically from a peacetime French farmhouse during a family feud to the horrors on the battlefield in 1916.
An imposing set, atmospheric lighting and gun shots harrowingly depict the squalor of the sprawling underground tunnels during the Battle of the Somme.
Former Blue Peter presenter turned Olivier Award-nominated actor Peter Duncan gives a standout performance as Jack Firebrace, delivering some of the most powerful moments of the play both during his correspondence home and in his relationships with his comrades.
A multi-talented cast of 12 perform several roles, also providing haunting music and song. And through it all, the skylarks still sing.
Rachel Wagstaff’s moving play, directed by Alistair Whatley, is a harrowing yet splendid tribute to the sacrifice of millions who died in horrendous circumstances 100 years ago and just a glimpse at one of their heart-breaking stories.
- Birdsong runs until Saturday. Call 01962 840440 or visit theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk for tickets.