It is easy to forget the panic that beset the United Kingdom in 2001, as the Foot and Mouth epidemic raged across the country, wiping out all before it. Those horrific sights and sounds of green pastures crackling with the sound of burning pyres and rotting flesh, as the cruel executioner’s march saw that over 4 million animals met a premature end in the name of ‘containment’. It was estimated to have cost the government a total of £8bn. It even forced the postponement of a General Election. For a layperson in the urban sprawl, it’s all too easy to forget those frightening statistics and painful suffering.
In And Then Come The Nightjars, writer Bea Roberts turns attention onto that chapter in recent domestic history. Set in South Devon, farmer Michael (David Fielder) is a gruff old-school sort, replete with a grey mop of hair, grizzly beard and thick country accent. His chum, the local vet, Jeff (Nigel Hastings), is a source of envy for Michael, with his comfortable life and lovely wife.
As the early, tentative steps of the drama touches upon this odd-couple relationship, whispers emerge of the culling. Michael is devoted to his cattle; even providing names for them. Jeff encourages perspective and reassurance that all will be fine. It soon becomes clear, however, that all is not, and will not be, ‘fine’.
Spikey, caustic and acerbic comedy rubs up against the forlorn backdrop of a harsh and bitter suffrage. It would be easy for Roberts’s material to fall off-kilter and emit an imbalance too far in either direction. Somehow, and in a strikingly fleet-footed fashion, she dances around with both faultlessly. It is all the more touching for this powerful combination.
This particular production thrives from having a wonderful two-hander cast. Fielder, in particular, is outstanding. The verisimilitude of his performance is so visceral and kinetic that it’s hard to believe that Michael isn’t real. This adds true heft and gravitas to the representation of the farmer’s plight, as well as heartache, as the dawning realisation that in the age of mass-scale agriculture on industrial levels, we have probably seen the end of such colourful characters.
Designer Max Dorey and director Paul Robinson deserve special mention too, for having sculpted a complementary frame for these matters to play out. Their proscenium arch sits around the inner-sanctum of a farm stable and its rickety structure evokes the old home farm stereotype.
And Then Come The Nightjars is an emotive, wistful and thought-provoking paean to a bygone era, prompting discussion over the practices of the modern age, for both the good and the bad, as well as attesting to the travesty of culling and the people left in its wake.
Review by Greg Wetherall
And Then Come The Nightjars is a deeply affecting examination of the crisis caused by the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. Set in the rural West Country, it shows how the damage is still evident on the landscape ten years on.
Performance Dates Wednesday 2nd – Saturday 26th September 2015
Tuesday to Saturday, 7.45pm, Sunday, 5pm
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval)
Twitter @theatre503, @bea_roberts, #NightjarsPlay
Writer Bea Roberts
Director Paul Robinson
Designer Max Dorey
Composer Olly Fox
Sound Designer Max Perryment
Cast: Michael – David Fielder, Jeff – Nigel Hastings
Theatre503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road,
London SW11 3BW, https://theatre503.com/
Wednesday 9th September 2015