Resident Next Stage Theatre Company's production of Birdsong - at The Mission this week until Saturday 1st July - has received rave reviews from critics and audience members alike. Below you can read our two official reviews, as well as some excellent comments from those lucky enough to have seen the show so far!
Birdsong is a popular and successful novel. A love story mingled with the brutality and reality of the trenches and the Battle of the Somme. The play focuses the action in the British trenches and behind the lines in France from 1916 – 1918 with earlier romantic events shown in flashback.
This is a hugely difficult play to stage, given its episodic nature and filmic quality. The constant flashbacks need to fit seamlessly into the action without breaking the flow of the script.
Ann Ellison, directing, has achieved a great balance with the use of the stage area in The Mission and the action is able to move fluidly between the defined performance spaces. An atmospheric lighting design from Kris Nuttall brings depth to the piece alongside a versatile set design.
The piece is lead with true style and conviction by Richard Matthews (Jack Firebrace) and Chris Constantine (Lieutenant Stephen Wraysford). Both men are linked by their goodness and desire to save others and tormented by the ravages of war. Hayley Fitton-Cook (Isabelle Azaire) allows the romance with Wraysford to develop under the watchful gaze of her brutal husband (Bob Constantine) and his ever present friend, Berard (Reynold Leming).
As always, supporting roles are well defined and the company work is excellent. Ben Armstrong (Private Arthur Shaw) is a loyal and faithful support to Firebrace and as the play reaches its conclusion there is much to consider.
Aside from the immense loss of life in the Somme campaign, Birdsong considers the loneliness and worries of the soldiers; the injustice of rank and the many questions that must have been asked by those who gave their lives so valiantly. This is a thought provoking play reflecting some of the very darkest days of World War One.
To say that staging Birdsong at The Mission Theatre is ambitious would be an understatement. Luckily for us, the audience, it is managed wonderfully well.
Set in France before between 1910 and 1918 the action follows Englishman Stephen Wraysford having an affair with the wife of his employer at Amiens before the war, subsequently returning there as an officer at the Somme, where acquaintances resume.
Constant flashbacks require two sets plus a very large cast and somehow these are accommodated. Highly effective sound effects, lighting and costumes help make it all work.
While there are obviously echoes of Journey’s End, this is really a love story. Chris Constantine (Stephen Wraysford) is on stage for virtually the whole time and is impeccable, but the glue in the trenches is provided by Richard Matthews in a remarkable performance as sapper Jack Firebrace.
There are outstanding individual portraits, often heavy on pathos, from all the cast in this complex but compelling tale which commands attention from beginning to the end. Amazing.
Afterwards the play is moving on to the Minack in Cornwall where the larger stage may make it even more impressive.
Not a play to be missed – if you can get a seat.
I'm sorry I couldn't stay last night to say this to everyone in person but just wanted to pass on a massive thank you for an enjoyable interpretation of one of my favourite books. The flashbacks were handled really well and the whole cast worked seamlessly together. Massive congratulations to Chris and Richard in particular who delivered such emotional and honest performances. Best of luck for the rest of the run and big love to all. HS
A huge congratulations for pulling off such an incredible show!! As good as Monday's run was, last night took my breath away, and every single actor had developed even more in the space of 2days! I felt the different relationships within the play were portrayed very well which helped us as the audience to grieve those who died as well as those who had lost friends/family. Very emotional and a 'pull at the heart strings' performance. Absolutely loved it! Thanks, and congratulations again on a very successful show. AC
To all involved in Birdsong - those on stage, back stage, hiding in lighting/sound cubby holes plus a courageous director,
How wonderful! A seemingly impossible task (to me anyway) achieved with convincing energy and compassion. Great performances and teamwork. I cared about every one of the characters. Deeply moving. I look forward to seeing it again at The Minack. All the best for the rest of the run in Bath. CG
What a fantastic opening night’s performance - so powerful and brilliantly imagined. The audience was gripped. Well done to Ann and her excellent cast! VB
Brilliant performance, very emotional and realistic. Thoroughly recommend. SBS
Thought I'd ping you an email whilst I am still buzzing from tonight's performance. What a talented group of actors you have. Congratulations on such a fantastically brilliant performance tonight. I don't think I've ever been to a performance that felt so intense and the ending, it brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat. You should be proud of your whole team (& yourself of course). Thank you for such a wonderful evening. JBS
An excellent production. The 'episodic nature' is well managed, with lighting and different location. The acting/talking was of a very appropriate speed. The pauses in the speeches were really poignant. Thoroughly recommended. PW