Q&A with Birdsong stage adapter Rachel Wagstaff

The theatre tour of Birdsong visits York Theatre Royal from 5th-9th June. I was given access to the all important questions we all want to ask stage adapter Rachel Wagstaff…

Why did you want to adapt Birdsong for the theatre?
I loved the novel when I first read it at 17, on the bus, on the way to and from school. I felt a profound connection with it. It struck me even then how well it could take to the theatre – for example, how vividly the tunneling scenes and the intensity of the relationships could be portrayed. I suppose this was my way of paying tribute to a novel that meant so much to me, bringing it to new audiences and afresh to long-standing fans of the novel alike. I felt hopeful that if I could create something that received Sebastian’s approval, it might also pass the scrutiny of all the other fans of the novel!

You must feel very proud that the theatre production of Birdsong has had such a long and fruitful life.
When you write something, you hope that it will mean something to other people too. While there was much to admire in the original West End production, the script didn’t quite work. When I was later approached by the tour producers about a regional tour, I couldn’t possibly have envisaged what a beautiful production they would create, what a success they would make of the show. I revised and reworked the show intensively with the director, Alastair Whatley, and suddenly, it came to life. I suppose what I’m most proud of is the way audiences seem to respond; not only that but each year, the show becomes stronger, this year’s tour (re-mounted by Charlotte Peters) being the most powerful version yet. When Birdsong was first announced, there was a cartoon in Private Eye with the words ‘It’ll be over by Christmas’. Our director recently pointed out that this show has now lasted longer than the First World War. It means a great deal that this final tour coincides with the final year of four years of commemoration of the war.

Is Birdsong for you?

I imagine the show will be quite hard work to watch – it’s hardly a light subject matter, after all. However, if you are keen to celebrate the centenary year since the end of the First World War, then you should definitely consider going along.

Do you have your tickets booked yet? Don’t miss the show from 5th-9th June at York Theatre Royal.

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