Review: Birdsong at The Liverpool Playhouse

Posted on 17 April 2015
By Chris High
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The production of Birdsong currently running at The Liverpool Playhouse Theatre, is everything that a play should be. Inspirational, emotional, uplifting, mesmerising and – above all – as entertaining and informative as can be imaginable.

Largely, there are three contributory facets of why this play has transferred so well from page to TV to stage. Firstly, the story itself is so multi-layered and yet so beautifully and simply told, it is impossible not to find it engaging. Secondly, the set here adds a level of claustrophobic-yet-freeing atmosphere to the piece it becomes a character in itself.

Thirdly, the music and – particularly – the feeling that is put into the singing and musicianship offered by the cast as a whole, but predominantly by James Findlay, which provides both a sombre and carefree ambience when necessary that which gives an intensity and power that is almost beyond imaginable.

Of course, having a fine, understated Director and a cast that sparkles also helps and in this Birdsong definitely delivers, particularly as one of the actors and the play’s director – Alastair Whatley – are one and the same. As the loudmouthed braggart Evans, Whatley excels in what is a peripheral but nonetheless key role, whereas it is as a director – keeping this juggernaut moving – that his real plaudits should derive from.

And there is so much talent on stage it is difficult to choose a stand out. As the lovelorn Stephen Wraysford Edmund Wiseman is sublime. As Isabelle, the object of the young Lieutenant’s desire, Emily Bowker – who could easily pass as Gillian Anderson’s double in more ways than just looks – is magnificent. As Jeanne, Cloudia Swann’s delivery and touching portrayal is as rousing as it is affecting. Yet it is Peter Duncan as Jack Firebrace who really catches the eye.

For those who remember Duncan from 1980s children’s TV and who might pass him off as someone from yesteryear, think again. This role requires stamina, accuracy, pathos, sympathy and – above all – skill which are clearly all attributes this fine actor has in bucket loads and it in his performance that the success of this play so squarely sits.

Crammed with everything one might expect from the very best of theatre, Birdsong swoops to the very highest of perches and nests firmly amongst the most delightful of serenades to the fallen heroes of World War I ever committed to the stage.

The Liverpool Playhouse
April 13 – April 18
Author: Rachel Wagstaff from the novel by Sebastian Faulks
Director: Alastair Whatley
Producer: The Original Theatre Company & Birdsong Productions Ltd.
Cast Includes: Edmund Wiseman, Emily Bowker, Peter Duncan, Selma Brook, James Findlay, Cloudia Swann, Max Bowden, Liam McCormick.
Running Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
PR Rating: ***** Exquisite