Writer: Bea Roberts
Director: Paul Robinson
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Joint winner of the inaugural Theatre 503 playwriting award, Bea Roberts’ 75-minute oneact play here gets the professional production that formed part of its prize.
The play is a two-hander that takes snapshots from the lives of its protagonists over a 12 year period and charts their maturing friendship. It is also an elegy to ways of rural life that are changing rapidly or disappearing. Designer Max Dorey’s set, the interior of a wood and stone barn, is impressively realistic and fog blowing in adds to the cold, wintery feel.
The starting point is the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Michael (David Fielder) is an ageing Devon cattle farmer who dotes on his stock and names his cows after female royalty. Jeff (Nigel Hastings) is a townie around 20 years younger, the farm vet who becomes torn between his responsibilities to Michael and to the Whitehall mandarins who are ordering the cattle to be slaughtered.
Opening scenes are filled with anger as Jeff struggles to keep Michael in check, but then, countering expectations for the drama to build, Roberts winds it down to become a gentle and melancholic “odd couple” comedy. Her writing is marked by an awareness of the patterns of everyday conversation and to the small details in life that bind two people together.
When Jeff goes through a marital breakdown and hits the bottle, it is the turn of Michael, a widower, to become the steadying influence, emphasising the two men’s growing mutual dependence. The bonding of the characters is made believable by two superb performances in which subtle gestures and glances illuminate the tenderness in the writing.
Paul Robinson’s production is vivid and sensitive to the play’s changes in tone. Both the men seen here are hardened by life’s knocks and accepting of the natural order. Both cling to companionship as their consolation and both are prepared to hear the call of a nocturnal bird that, according to local superstition, augurs death – the nightjar.
Runs until 26th September | PhotoJack Sain