Sunday, 12 January 2014

Birdsong (theatre)

I enjoyed Original Theatre's Three Men In A Boat back in August last year so was eagerly anticipating their next production, a play of Sebastian Faulks' novel Birdsong. Unfortunately, the original tour dates did not bring it any closer than Brighton's Theatre Royal so I steeled myself to splash out on a train ticket and went. A couple of weeks later (I'm writing this in August 2013), the new Eastbourne Theatres brochure arrives and, what do you know, Birdsong was coming to the Devonshire Park after all - but not until February 2014 so that would have meant an additional six month wait!

In pre-war France, a young Englishman Stephen Wraysford embarks on a passionate and dangerous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire that their 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 under ground. Faced with the unprecedented horror of the war Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle as his world explodes around him.

First off, you need to know that the play is LONG! The first act is an hour and a half and the second act is an hour. Having said that, it didn't feel like anywhere near as much time was passing as I was caught up in the story being told onstage. I hadn't read the book so needed to concentrate as the characters move swiftly in and out of flashbacks and several of the actors also play more than one role. It's obvious when they change characters, but some of the time changes are quite subtle. The actors are all very good and the detailed set is excellent. I'll be amazed if it all fits on the Devonshire Park stage - it does look like the crew has got a two-day get in though because performances don't start until the Wednesday! It changes from being a First World War trench to sapper tunnels to town streets all with a flip of the lighting effect and the addition of props.

My problem with the play, and the reason this blog isn't raving that you should all go see the production, is the script. Many of the lines are unbelievably prescient and I found that distracted from the story. The cast build up tremendous atmosphere within a scene and then one of them comes out with something incredibly clunky and immediately I was back in a theatre watching a play, not with these people in their world. Having said that, it's well worth an evening out.

Devonshire Park Theatre, Wed 12th to Sat 15th Feb, 19:45.
Wed and Sat matinees, 14:30.
Tickets various prices, available online, by calling 01323 412000, or in person at the Box Office and Eastbourne Tourist Information Centre.


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