Birdsong at New Alexandra Theatre. Birmingham

by Julie Wallis

Birdsong at New Alexandra Theatre

Birdsong is at the New Alexandra Theatre all week. Based on the Sebastian Faulks novel of the same name this is the touching story of Stephen Wraysford (Tom Kay), set both during his time in the trenches of the western front in France from 1916 until 1918 and his memories of a passionate affair he had with Isabelle Azaire (Madeleine Knight) the wife of Rene Azaire (Martin Carroll) whilst he was visiting them in pre war France in 1910.

Really, this is two stories being told, set some years apart but with the same characters. As I’ve not read the book, I can’t say how this compares, but I do know that last night was touching, tender and terrifying. I may have misinterpreted but for me the 1910 scenes of Stephen and Isabelle’s passionate affair seemed to be played out in Stephen’s mind when he was in hospital.


Birdsong is far removed from my usual musical theatre choice, but truly I am so pleased I have experienced this now. It is beautifully acted on a fantastic stage. The set is predominantly the trenches, with tunnels, barbed wire, bombed out buildings and explosions but it also works perfectly when the same set is Isabelle’s house or a hospital with just a few props added, my imagination filled in the rest.

Birdsong is very different to how I had imagined it would be. Knowing that it was set in the grim reality of war, and a real battle, the battle of the Somme, which my own grandfather fought in. I thought it would be tragic, a tearjerker with no joy. After all, watching all the characters going ‘over the top’ just as we the audience have begun to know them has to be sad, and yes it was very emotional but it was also testimony to the bravery of the young lads that had lied about their age to go and fight for King and country, it was sad, but it was bittersweet and somehow very pure and innocent too.


Of course I loved the lead characters of Stephen and Isabelle. They were very real, Isabelle is a caring person who takes food to some workers even though this will get her into hot water with her much older husband, she has no joy in her life, she is in a loveless marriage until she meets Stephen Wraysford and then there is passion and it sizzles.

Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar) is a hard working tunneller, and we find out more about Jack via the letters he writes and receives from his wife back home. Poor Jack, he’s not having any luck, he’s up for a court Marshall and desperately needs to get home to his wife and son. But he remains as upbeat as is possible in the circumstances. He’s what you’d call chipper, as he talks about his life in London before the war. When Jack is talking, I had to remind myself that this was just 100 years ago. How much the world has changed. Birdsong is a fantastic history lesson for older children.

Another well rounded character Evans (Riley Carter), the Welshman with a big personality, and cheerful outlook, also managed to take me to the brink of tears. A proper ‘lads lad’ with his talk of life in the valleys and his frequent visits to  the er.. local lady, played by (Olivia Bernstone) when he breaks down in tears himself and admits he doesn’t want to die a virgin and we realise he is all talk.

Alongside the fantastic acting on a wonderful set, the whole stage was finished off with the use of some perfect lighting. From cold grey November dawns, to the full on explosions and gunfire of the battlefield Birdsong has the best lighting I have seen this year. I also loved the inclusion of a soldier who sang and played the violin at varying poignant moments.


While I sat watching Birdsong, England football game was playing a few thousand miles away in Russia and the fact international football even happens shows how far we have come from the dark days of the trenches. Birdsong is not just a story of war or love and although it does have some sad themes, there is a lot of death, it also has hope and passion right at its heart.

Brace yourself for some loud explosions and enjoy Birdsong for the bittersweet love stories it shares as you join these soldiers up to their neck in mud and bullets. I promise you, it’s well worth seeing.

Book tickets to Birdsong which is at New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 23rd June here:

This isn’t a sponsored post. #BrumHour was invited to see Birdsong by the New Alexandra Theatre.

Julie blogs as RedandGoldWeb here: