The Somme. It’s a name that will always evoke images of the brutal killings which took place on the battlefield during the First World War.
And yet in this stage version of Birdsong, adapted from Sebastian Faulks’ best selling novel by Rachel Wagstaff, we are invited to imagine the water gardens and the genteel way of living that existed there before the outbreak of the war.
“They are all one,” Jeanne Fourmentier tells Stephen Wraysford, the English soldier who once had a passionate affair with her sister Isabelle and who has been left ravaged mentally and physically by the war.
The sense of past and present existing simultaneously is beautifully evoked in this stage version of Birdsong, which has been showing at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal this week.
We begin deep in the trenches of the battlefield where the men are ‘tunneling’ deep under ground hoping to be able to snare the enemy with mines.
At times, the men sit waiting for something to happen, filling their time with jokes and letter-writing; however, the tedium is punctuated by loud and very real-sounding explosions while up above the trenches there are crosses, foretelling the imminent deaths of these men.
As Stephen lays wounded in a hospital bed, drifting in and out of a troubled sleep, he remembers his life in pre-war France staying with the Azaire family.
Memories of his illicit affair with Isabelle give him a reason to live and he vows to go and find her.
There were strong performances from all of the actors; Jonathan Smith as Stephen captured his youth, passion and finally the mental turmoil caused by the war, while Sarah Jayne Dunn (known to many for playing Mandy in Hollyoaks) portrayed Isabelle with a haunting authenticity.
Another stand-out performance came from Tim Treloar as Jack Firebrace who left the audience silent with his portrayal of a working class man stuck in the trenches and thinking about his family.
Despite its bleak subject matter, there were also some wonderful comic moments.
Arthur Bostrom, who played the English soldier in sitcom Allo Allo, was superb with a French accent that was delightfully reminiscent of his TV character.
For details on upcoming shows visit www.trch.co.uk.
Review by Catherine Allen