Review: Birdsong at Buxton Opera House

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First it was a novel, then a TV drama. Now Sebastian Faulks’s epic First World War novel Birdsong is on the stage, at Buxton Opera House this week: a piece of theatre that tugs at the heart and the conscience, and leaves audience members with plenty to think about.

First it was a novel, then a TV drama. Now Sebastian Faulks’s epic First World War novel Birdsong is on the stage, at Buxton Opera House this week: a piece of theatre that tugs at the heart and the conscience, and leaves audience members with plenty to think about.

Everything happens against a backdrop of war wreckage: rubble, broken walls, makeshift barricades. Other timeframes and places are represented by furniture and props, but the war is ever-present.

In the middle of the mayhem is Jack Firebrace (Peter Duncan as you’ve never seen him before.) He’s dirty, ragged, yet relentlessly optimistic as he leads his team of tunnellers, laying mines to trap the enemy.

Edmund Wiseman is Captain Stephen Wraysford, now in charge of a troop of foot soldiers but once the lover of Isabelle (a luminous Emily Bowker), abused wife and closet socialist.

Their affair is skilfully portrayed as flashbacks, and they picnic by the Somme, later the scene of the greatest disaster of the war.

There’s tearjerking music from James Findlay, and strong performances from the entire cast of twelve. It’s powerful and poignant, with an ending that will wrench your heart. See it if you can; it runs until Saturday, February 21.