RACHEL Wagstaff's stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks's novel Birdsong returns to York Theatre Royal from Tuesday on its final British tour to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

This Original Theatre Company production, directed by Alastair Whatley with Charlotte Peters, first visited the Theatre Royal in March 2014 and this time the cast will be headed by East Yorkshire actor Tom Kay as Stephen Wraysford and Poldark actress Madeleine Knight as Isabelle Azaire.

"This is the fourth and final tour of Rachel Wagstaff’s adaptation of my novel and, as it coincides with the centenary of the Armistice in 1918, it comes with an additional air of celebration," says Sebastain Faulks. "The play has had a long life since its first incarnation in the West End in 2010 and audiences have always been warm and appreciative. I very much hope that this finale will be a glorious one."

His mesmerising story of love and courage is set before and during the First World War. In pre-war France, young Englishman Stephen Wraysford 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 the unprecedented horror of the war, he clings to the memory of Isabelle and the idyll of his former life as his world explodes around him.

Already The Original Theatre Company's production has been seen by more than 200,000 people and Tom Kay anticipates the final tour having extra resonance. "I think that can't help but have an impact when everyone's attention is on this period of history and with this year being Armistice year," he says.

He is appearing in Birdsong after performing in RC Sherriff's Journey’s End on the Great War battlefield of Ypres. "I suppose I was head-hunted after Journey's End," says Tom, who incidentally is following in the boot steps of his fellow RADA graduate Edmund Wiseman in playing Wraysford.

York Press:

Tom Kay, as Stephen Wraysford, and Olivia Bernstone, as Lisette, in Birdsong. Picture: Jack Ladenburg

"Dominic Cavendish, from the Daily Telegraph, came over to Ypres and gave us a lovely five-star review, and from that review, Original Theatre director Alastair Whatley came to see it.

"I then met Sebastian after I'd accepted the offer; we met for lunch or dinner for a good chat with the writer and director about the role and I did my best to keep calm at that prospect!"

Subsequently, Tom has been directed by Charlotte Peters for Birdsong's touring finale. "She has great vision and a musical ear, and it's all about the beats in the dialogue," he says.

Analysing Stephen Wraysford's role, Tom notes: "The character I play is almost like a contemporary eye on the occurrences in the story in that he doesn't really think like someone of the period, not agreeing with people of that time, almost like a modern person looking in on these events.

"The love story gives an insight into his psychology, and so you understand why he is so cold towards his men initially, given where he's come from and where he's going to.

"There are two parallel storylines: one is Stephen's story; the no-man; the other is Jack Firebrace, the tunneller, who is an everyman character, so it's very well balanced between someone who is enigmatic and someone who is familiar, a Jack-the-lad."

Tom hopes that plays about the First World War will continue to be staged. "We must at least try to do that; to keep what happened at the forefront of our minds. To put them away in drawers and forget about them at the end of the centenary would be wrong," he says.

"From this point in time, the world had changed considerably and we owe our lives now to what men did for us in that war. It was the beginning of our freedom, our democracy."

Should you be curious where Tom grew up in East Yorkshire, the answer is the little village of Eastrington, near Howden. "My dad's a builder and I'm one of ten children but the only actor," he says. "He needed to be a builder to build a house to accommodate us all!"

The Original Theatre Company presents Birdsong, York Theatre Royal, June 5 to 9, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk