Birdsong – King’s Theatre

Written by Sebastian Faulks, Adapted by Rachel Wagstaff

Directed by Alistair Whatley & Charlotte Peters

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Never again”; the imperative words uttered regarding the First World War. Yet, in the darkest moments of human history, we find an enticing light to the subject. Whether it be through respect, education or simply guilt, the lessons we garner from these times are urgent. Adapted from the 1993 novel of the same name, Birdsong seeks to reignite our respect and recover history.

Beneath the moaning earth, littered with the fallen, an entirely different war was waged. Tunnels, some 100ft below No Man’s Land, carved out by British, French and Germans attempting to lay explosives below the other. Dug by ‘sewer rats’, men who dug out the London undergrounds, men like Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar) aching for news of his son in London. Still soldiers in their own right, risking their lives in multiple ways just as those above the surface did. Laced within this narrative are flashbacks to the rumbles of war, as Stephen Wraysford (Tom Kay) arrives in France. He finds a gleam of light in the shade, Isabelle (Madeleine Knight) a married French woman.

Differing from the novel, focusing more on the stories of Wraysford and Firebrace is a respectful turn as opposed to their descendants. It eases the narrative, driving our attention into the correct areas. The fuse takes time to smoulder, and you’ll certainly find it easier to connect with one character over the other. Yet in the grand scheme their fates are entwined to the audience’s receptiveness. Deeply moved by the outcome, even with characters we hadn’t entirely warmed to.

A touching thematic exploration of fatherhood is conducted through the larger role of Firebrace. Treloar embodies the spirit of a father, the centre of his garrison keeping the men jovial and the young brave. Balancing this are Knight and Kay whose passions betray otherwise icy exteriors. The fleeting moments of fondness one seeks in desperate times are deep, showing that there is more to the tale of war than death. Even through this, love still exists, however complicated. The chemistry, more so than between the romantic leads, but Treloar and Kay as comrades is touching, leading to gut dropping moments.

Transitions are complicated in the medium of the theatre stage, unable to rely on the usual tricks screen productions can call upon. Birdsong however manages a tremendous feat, we never need to question if we are in the ‘present’ or past. More than this, simple tricks of the light and swift flat moves manifest all forms of location. From the grim trenches, deep underground to the claustrophobic tunnels. Alex Wardle’s tweaked lighting design is simple, nothing over the top but manages to shift the tone from one of song to the dreaded ‘over the top’ moments of the Somme tastefully.

With war, comes pain. One cannot sugar-coat the atrocities of the past, nor should we ever re-write them. Even in fictional works, the subject matter needs to remain as truthful as possible to real events. Throughout the seclusion of the grimness, small sparks of humanity remain. Tiny touches which, just to those brave men, lift the audience out of the doldrums. Singing, music and those symbolic birdsongs help alleviate the bleakness, whilst also reinforcing the severity of the situation.

Recovering history is of paramount importance. As memories fade, they alter, they shift and warp. Productions such as Birdsong, as too the original novel, seek to maintain a narrative. Even if fictionalised. It would be a stretch to describe Birdsong as uplifting, though it is enjoyable. Its subject matter of trauma isn’t made to entertain, more so to reignite emotions. In truth, it is a fundamentally engaging piece of adaptation, with merit behind its messages. For lest we forget (again), that what is war but hell?

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/birdsong-kings-theatre-edinburgh-2/

Raise The Curtain – Capital Theatre’s Digital Engagement

The curtain will rise again. But until then, we invite you to Discover it. Create it. Perform it

From the heart of one of the nation’s Theatrical epicentres, Capital Theatre, managing charity for Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, King’s Theatre and The Studio announces Raise the Curtain, a wide-range of events and digital activities to engage with the audiences while theatres are closed. So, whether you’re a young connoisseur of the arts finishing a nap, or keen to engage in some intergenerational ballroom dancing before a nap, Raise the Curtain will allow a range of live virtual performances, and interactive engagement sessions straight to your home.

Below you will find details regarding the outlines for many of the activities which are open to the public, as well as private projects developed for specific community groups.

Finding it tough to keep the Wee Creatives entertained? Or perhaps you’re looking for an excuse to crack out the art supplies and play-dress up? Well, no excuse is required for Wee Creatives which will offer free creative sessions for young children and their adults to enjoy. These weekly sessions shift from The Studio Theatre and directly into your home, with each week being led by a different performance artist who will lead a child friendly session. Presented live from Zoom and located on YouTube, these sessions begin as of today (May 28th)

And starting in July, over the period of eight weeks you’ll have the ability to learn to dance from the comfort of your own home, through a series of live and pre-recorded sessions courtesy of Shall We Dance? Hosted by former Scottish, International and World Champion dancer, Dawn Irvine. Dawn will bravely lead these bimonthly sessions in a for you to learn how to perform your own ballroom classics such as the Foxtrot, Jive, Waltz or the infamous Cha Cha Cha. Between sessions you’ll also gain access to these pre-recoded videos to ensure those two left feet don’t act up between lessons. All leading up to a grand spectacle, as Capital Theatres will host an afternoon, live on Zoom, for everyone to join in and strut their stuff, including a show dance from Andrei Toader and Mia Linnik-Holden.

We’ve spoken on Corr Blimey before about the marvellously popular Tea and Jam sessions held by Capital. A part of their dementia inclusive programme, this family friendly event is a monthly Zoom must, whether you’re cracking out the old guitars or warming up those vocals, all ages are welcome. This 45-minute session of uplifting melody is led by professional musician Gus Harrower and will held the last Friday of each month from 11am until noon.

QOTA was the highlight of the two-year partnership with LGBT Youth Scotland, a co-created original piece made with a group of young trans-activists across Scotland. Performing in front of 300 MSPs and invited guests at the Scottish Parliament in February, Capital have moved their activities with the group to a digital creative platform, where there is a continued supported to engage with the performing arts during lockdown.

Ever thought about what it’s like high up the lighting rig, or behind the box office? Well, with Behind the Scenes the public are invited to join an interactive call with staff at Capital Theatres to share the secrets of the theatre and how the tricks and magic come together. Having started last night (May 27th) this is sure to be of tremendous interest to those theatrical fans and budding performers.

Still not learned enough about the way Capital works? Well, with their Virtual Backstage Tours you can get your fix of all the secrets and mysteries lurking beneath The King’s Theatre, or some of the historical accomplishments the Festival Theatre (once Empire) has achieved. Starting June 2020, if you’ve been lucky enough to attend these tours in person, you’ll know how fascinating these sessions can be.

As part of their long-standing partnership with Harmeny Education Trust (a residential care home for care experienced children, in South West Edinburgh) Harmeny has been adapted to become a co-created storytelling project during lockdown. Gradually building the world and narrative around them, children create the story, choose the characters and environment and steadily, each week share, through various creative means, how they would like the story to advance. This in turn is then transformed into an artistic response through video the following week. By the conclusion of the six-week programme three short films of the children’s stories will be made available to enjoy and share.

FUSE is a project for anyone who is care experienced. For the last two months, participants over the age of sixteen have been digitally meeting weekly to discuss challenges presented, or heightened, by lockdown such as isolation, anxiety, and loneliness. Broadening their experiences, their weekly theatre club Zoom involves participants watching theatre online, bringing the group together to discover new performing arts and sharing the experiences.

Finally, Joy to the Moment looks to provide entertainment for residents isolating in care homes, or those shielding in their own. A series of small performances, wonderfully inspired from Gracie Irvine, a young pupil at The Edinburgh Steiner School, whose concerns for people isolating and in care surroundings, wanting to find a way to provide comfort and entertainment, starting June 1st.

We may, presently, be unable to soak in the rich atmosphere of the theatre, but it will return. And until that day, we can maintain a cultural adoration and encourage a continued and right to engage with and develop art.

Full information regarding specific events can be sourced directly from Capital Theatres, either from their social media channels or website: http://www.capitaltheatres.com

Photo Credit – Phil Wilkinson info@philwilkinson.net http://www.philwilkinson.net 01316186373

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh enters ‘hibernation’ period

Having closed its doors on March 16th this year, The Royal Lyceum Edinburgh is now postponing all shows until at least Spring 2021. Making it clear they would not announce their season until they secure information for when audiences will able to safely attend. Suffering a loss of £700,000 in income due to the pandemic, with evident measures of social distancing likely to last until the year’s end, the theatre is facing the dire choice of entering redundancy discussions with unions, losing members of its theatrical family, or complete closure before Winter.

An icon of the city, The Lyceum is a lifeblood for the arts community and has been since 1883. Home for much of the Edinburgh International Theatre’s productions, with massive support from locals, it has endeavoured to sustain itself through austerity – where a vast number of its increasing income is earned through ticket sales. As a grant-aided company, this, unfortunately, means that as steady income halts there is no longer an inbound revenue. Sustaining itself thus far thanks to generous donations from the public, and continuing support from Creative Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council, the theatre’s board have made financial projections that, without intervention, the Lyceum will empty its funds in November this year.

Speaking directly on the issue, the Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig said:

To protect The Lyceum from closure we have to act now to preserve the theatre company and our ability to create theatre in Edinburgh in the future. Sadly, to do this we have to reduce the wage costs which make up the vast majority of our expenditure…

…This will mean losing friends from our theatre family – people I am in awe of, who make the magic happen on our stage and who are much loved and valued. Very sadly, with our principal income stream removed during this epidemic, the stark choice we face is between a redundancy process now to reduce our expenditure, or total closure before Christmas – an alternative that would leave the Lyceum shut long after the pandemic has passed.

Entering this period of hibernation will allow us to conserve the limited resource we have through the dark winter of Covid-19 and emerge, hopefully in the spring, with enough capacity to make theatre again with the brilliant theatre-makers of Scotland for the people of Edinburgh”.

Previous high-selling shows, such as the theatre’s annual Christmas production will be pushed back until 2021. Ticket holders for rescheduled shows will be contacted in due course. Meanwhile, it has been made clear that there will be continuing support for the city, as the Lyceum will maintain to operate community engagement and creative learnings.

With glimmers of hope, and re-schedules occurring, the theatre is working with producers and artists for a re-opening, but as of right now the focus is to conserve the minimal resources remaining. Our thoughts go to staff, colleagues, producers and cherished friends working towards a dawning era of post-COVID 19 theatre for the people of Scotland.

Further information, donations and contact details can be found on The Royal Lyceum’s website:https://lyceum.org.uk/

Photo credit & copyright – Royal Lyceum Theatre