Horsham’s Capitol marks the centenary of the armistice this year by hosting the touring stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong.
The show is at the venue from Monday to Saturday, April 23-28 – a piece which seems unimaginable on stage until you actually see it.
In pre-war France, a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, embarks on a passionate and dangerous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire that turns their world upside down.
As the war breaks out over the idyll of his former life, Stephen must lead his men through the carnage of the Battle of the Somme and through the sprawling tunnels underground. Faced with the unprecedented horror of the war, Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle as his world explodes around him.
Among the cast is Simon Lloyd who recalls the disbelief when it was first suggested the novel could be brought to the stage, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff. How on earth do you put tunnels on stage?
“They actually do it with some very inventive lighting, some very subtle lighting that gives you that dark and claustrophobic feeling.”
In other respects too, it is a show that has had to find its natural form on stage.
“When it was first on the stage, it was adapted chronologically and it didn’t do very well,” says Simon. “So she went back to it and wrote it in flashback. You now go between pre-war and war, and it works very well.
“I was lucky enough to do the second tour, which was the centenary year of the start of the First World War, one of the many reasons they were doing it. And I just love the history of the First World War. It is just so fascinating. We then took it out again in 2015 and now we are doing it again for the centenary of the end of the war.
“What is amazing is that we are going to some theatres for the third time, three years pretty much on the trot when you would have thought you would have exhausted them, but no, they still want us, which is great. There is still a lot of life left in it.
“And I have come back to the same role. Three of us in the current cast have been involved in some shape or form in previous productions. We are so close to the centenary now that it was a very easy decision to make.
“We haven’t got the same director. We have got the assistant director now, which is good. She knows the show very well.”
For Simon, part of the pleasure and the challenge is that he is playing against type, playing a Yorkshire collier, a working class guy: “I was brought up in Kent in a typical middle class family. Manual labour hasn’t been the kind of thing I have done. But I did a lot of research before. I travelled up to Yorkshire and did some research there.
“We had another three-week rehearsal period. It was very easy to slip back into. We are now touring until the middle of July.”
Call 01403 750220.
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