Birdsong - Play Vs Book

So on the 1st of July rather fittingly I went to see the production of Birdsong at Richmond Theatre. It was fitting as it was the 99th centenary of the first battle of the Sommeit was also the hottest day of the year!

Many of you will probably know that my favourite book in my collection, thus far, is Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks it has all my favourite qualities: a massive WW1 plot, an eclectic cast of characters, great writing style and a poignant plot that gets me every time. So imagine my interest in the play version!

I have seen the TV version with Eddie Redmayne and all I have to save with regards to that is: that is the driest Somme I have ever seen!

But the playwell in my hard-to-please opinion: was incredible! People are probably sick to death of hearing good reviews of this production but truly I was laughing at the jokes, crying at the deaths, the horrors and the down-right story! I was mesmerised by the acting, haunted by the wordsso many different emotions that were precisely what I felt when reading the book!


The Play

The play was performed at Richmond Theatre, on a heavily utilized and cleverly spaced set which one moment took us to a trench in 1918, then a red bedroom in Amiens in 1910, then to a whorehouse in 1918 again.

The cast were an ensemble and mainly ‘unknown’ in terms of if I were to say 'Liam McCormick' I imagine not everyone could picture his face. He played Shaw and with a real touching warmth of brotherly affection for his fellow soldiers.

Peter Duncan was stupendous as Jack Firebrace, who oddly enough is my least favourite character in the book, yet he made the role entirely his own. I will probably forever see his performance when reading the book again.

Edmund Wiseman made Stephen Wraysford wonderfully human, and actually was able to explain things through his acting as well as the words of Sebastian Faulks and Rachel Wagstaff that I hadn’t previously understood within the character of Stephen.

But especially the portrayal of Tipper, who I believe is a re-making of the character of Weir and several other ‘young soldiers’ within the book, made me bawl. Max Bowden played Tipper with such urgent youth and terror that you couldn’t help but think ‘Oh God, was that what it felt like’?

Whereas all the other soldiers hide their fear or at least put on a brave attempt, Tipper’s character personifies the terror that must have been swimming in every soldier’s minds. And Max Bowden was fantastic!

The play was 2.5 hours long, with an interval, and I think my largest complaint was that the actor playing Rene Azaire and Captain Gray struggled to change his accents in between swapping character one moment he was a sickly-voiced Frenchman and the next he was a sickly-voiced Frenchman trying to speak ScottishI found it amoo-zingI mean amusing.

All in allif the show weren’t ending tomorrow and I wasn’t working I would grab another ticket and go again!


The Book

Birdsong is one of the most haunting books I have ever read. Some character stay with you whilst others simply fade, yet you find you remember them vividly when you pick the book up again.

Like most adaptions the plays/films etc do not contain all the details of the book and sometimes stray from the story for dramatic effects or budgets. The whole 1979 storyline of Birdsong is cut from the play which I imagine makes for a rather rigid ending to anyone who hasn’t read the book, as the promise that Stephen makes to Jack in the tunnels is not seemingly fulfilled. Whereas in the books we see what happens to Stephen’s descendants generations afterwards.

The book also contains a larger variety of characters, Weir being my favourite in the books and the largest omitted from the play. Weir is my favourite character because of the simple normalcy of him and what happens to him. He epitomises, to me, the real waste and horror of the First World War, which is why I was slightly saddened to not see his character name within the programme.

However, I still loved the inclusion of Tipper and believe the message Weir’s character was meant to create is still fulfilled within the play.

Pretty much my opinion of Birdsong has only got betterwhich is why I am going to cop out and say that the Play is fantastic but equally so to the book!

Here’s hoping the play tours again!

Happy Reading Folks!

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