Having never been to the Sutton Arts Theatre I had quite the surprise happening upon the small, unassuming venue in the middle of a Cul-De-Sac, only minutes away from Sutton Coldfield Town Centre. For what this little venue lacks in space, it makes up for in character. It is by far one of the most interesting auditoriums I have ever visited. It is cosy and intimate, with a glowing warmth, reminiscent of that old-time, war-time morale. Very fitting, considering the play I was about to see.
Upon entering the auditorium, I was greeted by a dense fog. Atmosphere oozed out of the doors, the red velvet seating welcoming, the dimly lit landscape of an open trench inviting – as the giant does with an open mouth, salivating to swallow you whole.
The play follows several characters episodically throughout the first World War – we see the crushing realities of this period of human history laid bare and how unnecessary this conflict was.
The Sutton Arts production of Birdsong had so many elements that were beyond excellent – The staging, scenery, props, costume and lighting were immaculately detailed. The entire aesthetic of the play was put together with such finesse: the fleeting use of deep blue undercut by the stark amber glow of cigarettes, the claustrophobic representation of the poorly lit, suffocating tunnels, the bright summer days of France. This aesthetic and the intricately created set, helped shaped this performance and the constantly changing location, time and space.
This perfect rendition of a trench during War Time was filled with a highly-skilled cast of dedicated actors – above and beyond any expectations of an amateur stage. The soldiers handled their duty with humility and skill, breathing life into the memories of those long forgotten Tommys. The central characters of Jack Firebrace (Dexter Whitehead) and Stephen Wraysford (Robbie Newton) led us by the hand, showing an honest vulnerability in a structure of 3 parts flashback and 2 parts letters from home – they played their parts with gentility and commitment. Special mention must be made to Tipper, a 15-year-old sign up who was handled excellently by Giles Whorton, portraying arguably the most tragic character in the play.
The quality of the performance presented by Sutton Arts is still in no small way a triumph of amateur theatre making, they have created a play that could easily be housed in a professional setting and are clearly masters of their craft.
Ultimately, I feel that the core message behind this show can be summarised by a line spoken by Wraysford right at the end, that “Future generations will never understand what it was like” – and he was right. I don’t. And as I saw the faces of the actors, smiling as they took their final bow, I was left with the lasting thought that I truly doubt that they did either.
This remarkable play runs until the 17th March at the Sutton Arts Theatre.
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