Writer: Bea Roberts
Director: Paul Robinson
Reviewer: David Jobson
The 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic devastated farming communities and its effects linger even today. Fifteen years on, West Country playwright, Bea Roberts, has taken her experiences of that year to write this beautifully crafted play.
The play follows Michael and Jeff, a farmer and vet respectively on a small family farm in Devon. In a cowshed, they await the arrival of the latest calf to Michael’s prized herd. They pass the time bickering and winding each other up, a suspicious Michael being pestered with quiz questions. After all, why is Jeff really there? Is it connected to the nearing threat of the disease?
Within the Salberg studio, the intimacy of the production goes hand in hand with such nuanced performances from both actors. The result is a harrowing, tense, funny and poignant depiction of two lives torn apart and healed over the span of 12 years.
Perhaps the standout performance is David Fielder as farmer Michael going through denial, confusion and anger as his herd is slaughtered. Still, he is evenly matched by Nigel Hastings as Jeff reluctantly taking upon himself the role of overseeing the cull
Both men suffer losses over the course of time. Michael his herd and sorrow over the early loss of his wife, along with Jeff’s family and job. But gradually this fractured relationship heals, while woven into their story is that of the changing landscape of farming.
The little set is a marvel to behold. From the floor littered with hay to the cobwebs hanging from the rafters, the level of detail used by designer Max Dorey is commendable. There are also some beautiful lighting transitions designed by Sally Ferguson to denote the passing of time
Maybe Bea Roberts plays loosely with the passing of time, but the heart of And Then Came the Nightjars was always the relationship between the two men performed with authenticity byFielder and Hastings.
At only 1 hour and 15 minutes, this is an emotional rollercoaster worth seeing.
Runs until 1 October 2016 | Image: Theatre 503