EXPLOSIVELY powerful, heart-wrenching, tough and uncompromising, Birdsong hits you hard with emotions that will last with you for a very long time, and so they should, writes Paul Thomas.

This First World War drama from Sebastian Faulks is both gentle and emotionally absorbing at the same time.

Don’t delay, get down to the Theatre Royal Windsor because this tour de force only runs until tomorrow (Saturday).

It brings you in and spits you out with such dramatic rafter that you can’t help but be with these men and women as the story of love, war and betrayal switches between a time of peace and a time of utter bloodshed.

One of the great war photographers of our age Don McCullin, told Michael Parkinson on his TV show some years ago that ‘war is a butcher’s business’ and you could not get more butchery than the First World War with its trenches not just dug deep into the ground, but into your very soul.

This story is told from the point of view of the sappers – the engineers who dig deep behind enemy lines in a bid to blow up the ‘Bosch’.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Birdsong is the hit, critically acclaimed stage show based on the world-famous novel by Faulks.

In pre-war France, a young Englishman Stephen Wraysford embarks on a passionate and dangerous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire that turns their world upside down.

As the war breaks out over the idyll of his former life, 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 the unprecedented horror of the war Stephen clings to the memory of Isabelle as his world explodes around him. This is a mesmerising story of love and courage set both before and during the Great War.

This compelling production of Birdsong has been seen by over 200,000 people and now it is your chance to experience this stunning piece of theatre live on stage.

Let me tell you, you will go home with thoughts of retribution, not least against Earl Haigh and the military top brass who sent our boys ‘over the top’, but also against the politicians who argued us into this idiocy that put us ultimately on a path to World War II.

Near the climax of the play when the battle’s cry is over and side meet in the middle a rank and file German soldier who happens to be a German Jew says ‘never again’.

How prophetic, how awful, how unknowing of his family’s fate 20 years later in his own country as the world was once again consumed with hatred.

It would wrong to pick out any one member of the cast to exemplify this incredible drama – they are all brilliant to a man and woman, simply sensational.

If it was me I would be crying all the way back to my digs at having to brace myself for this gut-wrenching emotional rollercoaster back on stage the following production.

That aside Tim Treloar as Jack Firebrace took my breath away, not only when he hears of his son’s death back home, but through the sheer power of his emotions.

Then again, that can be said of this wonderful ensemble.

A remarkable set, highly-charged backgound sounds and songs of the age all bring you into this unimaginable horror where men and women display heroics on a daily basis.

For pity’s sake, ditch the tellybox and get down to the ‘Royal’ for this evening of emotion, love and war. You’ll hear the birds in a different light in the morning.

Birdsong, Theatre Royal Windsor until tomorrow (Saturday). Box office: 01753 853888.