An adaptation of a book does not always make a satisfying play. Too often the words and characters remain rooted to the page and numerous short scenes can result in a very fractured and dull interpretation.
And then of course a book can be popular because it allows the reader to imagine the events and the characters in their own way whilst a play or film presents these people and situations physically in front of your eyes.
Birdsong the play doesn't overcome the problems. The long first half is a continual succession of short scenes that becomes wearing and doesn't allow the characters to develop. A team of twelve actors work hard not only doubling and trebling roles (in some cases) but efficiently moving the furniture around too.
However, the landscape of war is brilliantly recreated by the designer Victoria Spearing, even if the Azaire's drawing room sits uncomfortably within, and the lighting and sound are excellently done.
Birdsong is a passionate love story set against events at the Western Front in France but it is the war scenes that dominate this production. In particular Tim Treloar and Liam McCormick show us the hardship, the terrors and the sadness of the situation.
Malcolm James convincingly doubles the roles of the sadistic Azaire and the kindly Captain Gray whilst Poppy Roe makes a very heartfelt and moving Jeanne.
As Stephen Wraysford Jonathan Smith captures the caring and honest officer who is prepared to fight with his men and Sarah Jayne Dunn shows true feelings in the second half.
A story of love and loss, unrequited love and the horrors of war should wring you out and bring you to tears but whilst Birdsong is a worthy production with some fine moments it never quite gets there. I fear there are too many dry eyes in the house at the end.
- Richard Woodward