PERFORMING in Birdsong this year is particularly poignant for former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan.
The 1980s television star is in this new stage version of the Sebastian Faulks novel, which is currently touring the country and will be at the Wyvern Theatre from July 1 to July 5.
Peter, two other cast members, and an ambassador for Help for Heroes visited the Cenotaph in Swindon this week ahead of the production, which falls in the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War .
“We are telling a social history 100 years on, to bring it to life. Birdsong is more than a story, you’re talking about people’s lives,” said Peter.
“My generation have lived their years being grateful we never had to live years like these men did.
“I feel very lucky. If I had been born several generations earlier I would have been through two world wars.
“Birdsong has such a resonance with the audience. I am surprised how silent and reverent the audience are to the characters. They believe in the characters so quickly.
“You can hear a pin drop because the audience gets so emotional.”
The play tells the story of a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, who 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.
Faced with unprecedented horrors of the war, Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle and the idyll of his former life as his world explodes around him. Peter, who is playing a character called Firebrace in Birdsong, joined Blue Peter in 1980 before going on to make Duncan Dares.
His stage career began in the 1970s, and he has also appeared in film and television dramas. And he is no stranger to Swindon, having appeared at the Wyvern in pantomime in 1987 and in a production of Erik The Viking in 1992.
The 2013 tour of Birdsong raised more than £50,000 for Help for Heroes, and it will continue to support the charity this year.
Tom Stimpson, who is an ambassador for Help for Heroes, suffered a head injury and severe concussion after falling during an indirect fire attack while he was serving in Basra.
In 2008, he served in Afghanistan, and since he returned he has been diagnosed with non-epileptic attack disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
Tom, a father-of-three, said: “Help for Heroes has been incredible during my recovery.
“My battles may last a lifetime, and I only hope that the British public understand the difficulties faced by those with PTSD and continue to support this amazing charity.
“I went to see Birdsong last week and it was amazing. I just want to say to the nation please go and watch it because it will give you an insight into what life as a serviceman is like. They have got all the characters there and Peter Duncan is fantastic in what he does.”
Former Hollyoaks star Jonny Clarke, who played Bart McQueen in the soap, will play Tipper in Birdsong.
“I am really proud of what we have achieved. It is brilliant to be in a play that brings the First World War to people’s attention in the centenary year,” he said.
George Banks, who also visited the Cenotaph this week, will star as Stephen Wraysford.
A TV adaptation of Birdsong was screened in 2012 and starred Eddie Redmayne and Clemence Poesy.
For tickets visit www.wyverntheatre.org.uk or phone 01793 524481.