‘And Then Come the Nightjars’, developed through Bristol Old Vic Ferment in 2012, returns to Bristol Old Vic after being selected as joint winner of the inaugural Theatre503 Playwriting Award in 2014.
Bea Roberts’s debut play is set in Devon’s countryside and deals with the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth crisis back in 2001 and real estate developers consuming land for commercial purposes. With a brilliant stage set, the story is unveiled by a cast of two characters: Michael, who desperately tries to protect his farm from devastation; and Jeff, his friend, trying to reason with him in the moment of crisis.
With his wife having passed away only recently, the cows – ‘my little girls’ – is all that Michael has to hold onto. While he rages, clutching to his gun all the way, Jeff is there to take the shouting and endure the hit. Isn’t that how true friendships go in real life: taking the good and the bad, the sorrow and the happiness, the tears and the smiles?
As gunfire is heard, indicating the shooting of Michael’s beloved cows, one can literally see the overwhelming pain and suffering he undergoes, thanks to David Fielder’s brilliant performance. All that is left afterwards is dark emptiness, filled with the dripping of rain. Not surprisingly, lighting is crucial – the inevitable day/night alteration, marking not only the passage of time, but also the atmospheric lingering of grief with the spectator’s stagnant eye upon the abandoned barn.
Not everything is bleak, however. Michael and Jeff surely have their laughs, and the story is interwoven with delicate humour, which eventually turns to warm sentimentality between the two men who acknowledge the genuine care for each other and don’t shy away from showing it.
Bea Roberts has delivered a socially relevant story that perfectly balances between warm and harsh, sad and funny. Understandably, the polishing of it took not less than 4 years, Roberts says in an interview on the writing process.
‘And Then Come the Nightjars’ is the literal and metaphoric representation of a once prevalent and now disappearing way of life, brushing the strokes of a contemporary picture of rural England. In other words, it’s a must-see.
‘And Then Come the Nightjars’ is at Bristol Old Vic until October 17. For tickets and more info: http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/nightjars.html
Photos: Jack Sain