Dramatist Rachel Wagstaff is quite right in saying “Birdsong is in an incredibly powerful novel”. As a “literary novel”, it’s a haunting piece set across different times and locations. Sadly, this adaptation does not do the book full justice and leading inevitably to a disappointing theatrical experience.
The Amiens pre-war scenes where Stephen Wraysford meets and takes as a lover Isabelle Azaire lack credence and sexual charge. It was too brief and never satisfying. Both this affair and the factory strike had great dramatic possibilities – possibilities woefully squandered.
On the other hand, the visually stunning and superbly lit Western Front episodes captured the tedium, the fear, and the comradeship of soldiers living in death’s shadow Two years into the war and still there. Tim Treloar as Jack Firebrace, the strong character, broke down as he learnt of his young son’s imminent death. He obstinately prayed to a god that, in reality, had abandoned him. It is an achingly heart-breaking moment. If only Isabelle (Sarah Jane Dunn) and Stephen (Jonathan Smith) could have reached such heights.
Undoubtedly, it is hard to translate the power of a book. A book is personal. This adaptation was an honest and valiant endeavour but I personally found it, at times, deficient and unmoving. Sebastian Faulks who, when approached about the possibility of dramatization replied, “Why try to make a sculpture from a painting?” Maybe he had a point.
Birdsong is adapted from the critically acclaimed novel by Sebastian Faulks.
Directed by Alastair Whatley | Stage adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff
Brought to the stage by The Original Theatre Company & Birdsong Productions Ltd
National Tour, 22nd January to 3rd August 2013
This review was written for and first published on The Flaneur website.