Birdsong at Original Theatre online
Coming up with novel ways to produce plays is a serious challenge for theatre companies during the coronavirus lockdown. The Original Theatre Company is braving the task by presenting not only a recording of their brilliant 2013 production of Birdsong, a First World War play based on Sebastian Faulks’s novel of the same name, but by actually creating a new version filmed at the actors’ homes and cut together in post-production. The result is impressive, considering what it is, but it does come with its own problems – but it’s still a fantastically emotional ride with a solid plot.
To create the effect, all the actors filmed themselves performing their lines in front of green screens, and the editors filled in the background and mixed everything with appropriate sound effects and music. At times, the result can feel jarring; every shot is a close-up of the actors’ faces, in scenes with multiple characters they’ll occasionally be stacked on top of each other, and there’s practically – and understandably – no variety in shots or camera movements. This is a necessary result of the way it was filmed, but it still doesn’t help the production.
Thankfully, everything else is brilliant. The close-ups do offer the audience the full force of the acting; the costumes by Siobhan Boyd feel professional and authentic; and Dominic Bilkey’s sound design is apt and atmospheric. The plot – adapted by Rachel Wagstaff – may be a fairly traditional “war is bad”-type scenario with an interwoven love story, but it’s executed perfectly with a stark, character-driven storyline.
To top it off, the acting is outstanding throughout. Each performer is a stellar match with their character, with Tom Kay as Stephen and Madeleine Knight as Isabella being particularly strong – very impressive considering they portray a love affair without actually being in the same room! Faulks himself also makes a neat appearance by reading the narrative sections. Considering the quality of the cast, however, one would have hoped that they would have tried for authentic accents – here, the French seem to have curiously English pronunciation.
Despite its flaws, Birdsong is a great success which paves the way for yet more innovative ways of producing theatre during the lockdown. It will take some getting used to, given its limitations, but as the play shows, it’s not only possible to do, but also possible to do in a way which plucks at the heartstrings.
Photo: from the 2015 stage production of Birdsong (credit: Jack Ladenburg)
Birdsong is available to stream online from 1st until 4th July 2020. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.