Interview with Birdsong actress Madeleine Knight

Ahead of its anticipated return to the Everyman Theatre, SoGlos speaks to Birdsong lead actress Madeleine Knight about Sebastian Faulks' epic tale of love, courage, and war.

SoGlos speaks to actress Madeleine Knight about hugely successful show, Birdsong.
SoGlos speaks to actress Madeleine Knight about hugely successful show, Birdsong.

It’s been seen over 200,000 times and it’s returning to the Everyman Theatre following a previous sell-out run – now SoGlos speaks to Birdsong’s lead actress, Madeleine Knight, about the play’s raw emotion and beautiful visuals.

With the tour visiting Cheltenham from Monday 19 to Saturday 24 February 2018, theatre goers can discover what to expect, including war, romance and maybe some tears.

How are the Birdsong rehearsals going?

Rehearsals are wonderful! We’ve just had a run-through of the whole play and it’s looking in great shape. Everyone is really focused, enthusiastic about it. We’re all really excited!

What’s it like to star in such an iconic and well-loved show?

It’s wonderful because it’s such a well-oiled machine already; it will be completely different with a new cast but as far the crew and creatives are concerned, they know what they’re doing, so we’re in safe hands.

I’m very lucky to be working with a very strong cast.

Can you tell us about the story?

The story is told through a sequence of flashbacks; it follows Stephen Wraysford through WWI in the trenches, and in these flashbacks, he’s reminded of the woman he loved, Isabelle Azaire, who I play, who he met before the war.

Stephen met her because he came over from England to work with Isabelle’s husband, who’s a much older man. Stephen lives in the house with them and they begin an affair… and I’m not sure what else I can tell you without giving anything away!

How do you evoke the atmosphere and emotions of WWI?

I’m very lucky to be working with a very strong cast; being able to work with those people makes it’s very easy, in terms of performance!

Because the incidents that happened throughout the war are so stark and awful in themselves, it doesn’t take too much imagination to put yourself there!

It’s also helped by Rachel Wagstaff’s wonderful script; we’ve got great words to work with. The staging, lighting and set are also amazing – we’ve created this incredible world!

How would you describe your character of Isabelle?

A caged bird; she’s trapped in this loveless marriage with an abusive husband. She was once a wild spark and this vibrant, caring, very passionate woman is still in there somewhere, which I do think you see too.

How do you interweave romance with the war?

There are very good transitions throughout. The staging really helps, there are lots of parallels between characters in the past and present, and there are things that happen in the present (the war) that evoke Stephen’s memories and take him back to Isabelle.

Visually, it’s a beautiful piece.

Before you played the role, had you read the book?

Yes! I read it ages ago, and re-read it doing this project as it was so helpful for character development. It’s wonderful.

What do you think makes Birdsong such a timeless hit?

The stakes are so high that you really see raw emotion, and see how horrifying some of the situations are; that’s not going to leave you very soon. Visually, it’s a beautiful piece so that sits with you too.

Good theatre is stuff that sticks with you, and Birdsong has that… and a love story, which everyone enjoys!

What can audiences expect from the play?

People will leave feeling better educated about the war, because the play does shed a lot of light on it. If I watched this play I would just leave feeling like I’d experienced some emotion!

That’s hopefully what we’re going to give. It’s powerful, it’s going to be beautiful.

I’m really excited about it, I really am! In the last couple of weeks it’s really come together and having watched the end of it, without giving anything away, I was in tears in the rehearsal room!

Finally, what would you say about the tour?

Come and see it; you won’t regret it!

For more information see Birdsong at Everyman Theatre, call (01242) 572573, or visit directly.

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