News: Online production of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong announced

There will be a fully cast, abridged virtual production of Rachel Wagstaff’s highly acclaimed adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s best-selling novel Birdsong, streamed online on 1 July 2020, the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Told using video technology, live performance, sound design and music, all weaved together to create a unique portrayal of one of the greatest love stories in modern literature, the cast will be in full costume, with digitally designed scenes and lighting, making this the most ambitious online production yet. The performance will be introduced and narrated by Sebastian Faulks, with a special reading by him from his novel during the interval. The whole experience should last under two hours. The show will be released online via http://www.birdsongonline.co.uk at 7pm on 1 July and will then be available for a further 72 hours.

The virtual production is taking place in association with The Royal British Legion, who have, for nearly 100 years, helped all those who have served, or are serving, in the British Armed Forces and their families. Their work is as vital today as it was back in 1921, when they helped those suffering from the aftermath of the First World War. For more information, visit http://www.britishlegion.org.uk.

Birdsong tells a mesmerising story of love and courage, before and during the war. In pre-war France, a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, embarks on a passionate and dangerous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire that turns their worlds upside down. As the war breaks out, Stephen must lead his men through the carnage of the Battle of the Somme and through the sprawling tunnels that lie deep underground beneath the battle fields. Faced with the unprecedented horror of the war, Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle and the idyll of his former life as his world explodes around him.

The critically acclaimed Original Theatre Company and Birdsong Productions production toured between 2013 and 2018, receiving 4- and 5-star reviews, with audiences calling the show ‘simply stunning’. It was seen by over 250,000 people in over 75 theatres across the UK and in Ireland.

The cast for the virtual production, made up from members of the previous four companies, will be Tom Kay (Stephen Wraysford), Madeleine Knight (Isabelle Azaire), Tim Treloar (Firebrace), Liam McCormick (Arthur Shaw), Malcolm James (Captain Gray), Poppy Roe (Jeanne Fourmentier), Jeffrey Hamer (Colonel Barclay), Stephen Boxer (Rene Azaire), Olivia Bernstone (Lisette Azaire), Samuel Martin (Evans), Max Bowden (Private Tipper), Christopher Harper (Levi), James Findlay (Cartwright) and Tony Green (Military Policeman), with narration by Sebastian Faulks.

Sebastian Faulks said of the virtual production: “This is a great initiative from The Original Theatre Company and technically very ambitious. The adaptation of novel to play continues to evolve and I’m confident it has reached its best incarnation yet. Some of the best actors in its long life have signed up. Should be enormous fun.”

Rachel Wagstaff said: “I am thrilled to see our show taking life in this new online format. I have really enjoyed re-working it with Sebastian Faulks’s ongoing support and participation and in these challenging times, the story seems to mean more than ever.”

She continued: “I’m also really pleased to be teaming up again with directors Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters and The Original Theatre Company. Their work means a great deal to me and I’m very glad to be able to both support and promote it. I’m also very impressed that they have found a new way of making and creating work which, with theatres being closed for the foreseeable future, will be so essential for many of us. With the support of audiences around the world, I hope we can continue Birdsong’s journey from page to stage to being made online, and keep alive the flame of theatre, storytelling, and the sacrifices of so many, for us.”

The Original Theatre Company’s Artistic Director and Director of Birdsong, Alastair Whatley, said: “Birdsong is a story that explores the endurability of the human spirit and above all the power of love. Sebastian’s novel highlights how, even in times of unimaginable horrors and hardships, there is more that binds us together than breaks us apart; that we are all part of something bigger.”

He continued: “Never has this incredible story had more to offer and we wanted to find a way to share it at what is a very difficult time for so many people. The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916, and, 104 years later to the day, we hope people will join with us and come together to remember, reflect and experience something we hope will be a little bit special.”

Playwright Rachel Wagstaff wrote the book for the multi award-winning musical Flowers for Mrs Harris (Best Musical, UK Theatre Awards 2016), which played Sheffield Crucible and Chichester Festival Theatre, and a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d (UK Tour). With Duncan Abel, she adapted Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train (UK Tour and West End) and wrote the BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play When I Lost You. Also for radio, Rachel adapted Sebastian Faulks’s novel The Girl at the Lion d’Or for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.

Sebastian Faulks’s most recent novel, Paris Echo, is published by Hutchinson. HIs new novel, provisionally entitled Snow Country, is due out in 2021.

The virtual production of Birdsong is directed by Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters, with digital production design by David Woodhead, costumes by Siobhan Boyd, sound by Dom Bilkey and musical direction by James Findlay. It will be edited by Tristan Sheppard.

The virtual production of Birdsong is produced by The Original Theatre Company and is based on the original touring production produced by Anne-Marie Woodley and Jon Woodley for Birdsong Productions Ltd and The Original Theatre Company.

Age guidance 12+

Birdsong is available from Wed 1 July 7:00pm to Sat 4 July 11:59pm via www.birdsongonline.co.uk

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