COMMEMORATING the centenary of the Armistice of the First World War, Rachel Wagstaff’s highly acclaimed adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ bestselling novel Birdsong has embarked on its fourth and final UK tour, and it is showing at NST Campus from Tuesday April 17.

In a year with an extensive programme of events to commemorate the end of the First World War, Birdsong shines through with a beautifully sincere testament of love and courage amongst the horrors of war.

In pre-war France, a young Englishman Stephen Wraysford embarks on a passionate and dangerous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire that turns their world upside down.

As the war breaks out over the idyll of his former life, Stephen must lead his men through the carnage of the Battle of the Somme and through the sprawling tunnels that lie deep underground. Faced with the unprecedented horror of the war Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle as his world explodes around him. A mesmerising story of love and courage set both before and during the Great War.

Rachel Wagstaff and Sebastian Faulk explain what the production means to them.

“When you write something, you hope that it will mean something to other people too,” says Rachel. “While there was much to admire in the original West End production, the script didn’t quite work.

“When I was later approached by the Tour Producers about a regional tour, I couldn’t possibly have envisaged what a beautiful production they would create and what a success they would make of the show.

“I revised and reworked the show intensively with the director, Alastair Whatley, and suddenly, it came to life.

“I suppose what I’m most proud of is the way audiences seem to respond, not only that but each year the show becomes stronger.”

“The production seems to get better every time,” agrees Sebastian. “This version has a quicker pace without losing any intimacy.”

More than three million copies of Birdsong have been sold since its publication in 1993 and it is widely considered to be one of the best war novels of all time. The play is a cleverly crafted production that strikes a perfect balance by conveying the seriousness of war with light-hearted moments peppered throughout.

“It’s been brilliantly directed and cast; the production is first class,” Rachel explains. “But we are building upon a very profound and much-loved story.

“When I first read it at seventeen, on the bus, on the way to and from school, I felt a profound connection with it. It struck me even then how well it could take to the theatre, I suppose this was my way of paying tribute to a novel that meant so much to me – bringing it to new audiences and afresh to long-standing fans of the novel alike.

“We have, we hope, honoured the themes, characters and heart of the novel, even if we have had to condense and delete various strands in order to create a play that lives and breathes in its own right.”

“When I first started researching the war in the late 1980s it was still possible to meet men who had fought in it,” Sebastian adds. “That was an important part of it for me – to feel that it was not part of some pageant called ‘history’.

“But something very real that had had happened very recently to the man standing next to me.”