A beautiful and poignant piece of theatre comes to Horsham this month, brought to The Capitol by Sussex-based producers Jon and Anne-Marie Woodley for whom the play has been a labour of love for the past six years.
Birdsong dramatically brings to life a mesmerising story of love and courage before and during the horrors of the Great War of 1914-18, is Rachel Wagstaff’s acclaimed adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ best-selling novel.
The play’s raw, emotional power has been captivating audiences for several years throughout the UK and the production at The Capitol, from Monday to Saturday, April 23-28, will be the finale of its nationwide tour, a touching tribute marking this year’s centenary of the end of the First World War.
At the heart of the dramatic and enthralling tale is the emotional turmoil of a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, superbly played by Tom Kay, who in pre-war France embarks on a passionate and dangerous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire, played by Madeleine Knight, turning both their worlds upside down.
As war breaks out, Stephen must lead his men through the carnage of the Battle of the Somme and the sprawling tunnels that lie deep underground. Faced with the unprecedented horror of the appalling conflict, he clings to the memory of Isabelle and idyll of his former life as his world explodes around him.
Jon and Anne-Marie, who have lived in the Sussex village of Angmering for many years, are delighted to be bringing such a memorable drama to a local theatre.
“We like to try to put great drama in as many places and to as many audiences as possible,” Jon explains. “Rather than just take plays to the bigger venues we like to take important productions to lesser-known theatres as we believe it’s really vital to help those theatres, and the industry, survive.
“The team at The Capitol work very hard to create a great programme of music, drama and comedy, something for everyone, and we are very keen to support them.”
Birdsong has been a labour of love for the Woodleys since 2012 and Rachel Wagstaffe, who adapted Sebastian Faulks’ novel, has been working on it for 12 years. It took her about a year to persuade the renowned author that such an adaptation would do full justice to the original but he is completely happy with the transition of his work to the stage. So happy, in fact, that he occasional takes a cameo role in the production, joining the cast as one of the Sappers.
“It’s been an absolute privilege to work with Sebastian Faulks and with Rachel, who is fast becoming one of the UK’s leading female playwrights,” says Jon.
“Birdsong is such a beautiful and powerful story and we’ve had a great team working on it, all of them passionate and determined to treat it with respect and raise awareness of the horrors of the Great War.
“During the tour we have teamed up with a number of charities, including Help for Heroes which brought in donations of £50-60,000 for them. We have also teamed up with a nationwide campaign called There But Not There which has life-size silhouettes of Tommies, First World Soldiers, and aims to raise £15m for armed forces and mental health charities. One of those silhouettes will be in the Horsham production.
“November will mark the centenary of the end of the Great War and we feel it is such an important part of history that younger generations should be aware of it. Great theatre like Birdsong can play a big part in that.”
The Capitol Horsham,
Box Office: 01403 750220