And Then Come the Nightjars at Theatre503
And Then Come the Nightjars isn’t just a great play because it is well-performed, well-written and well-staged, it is a great play because it gives that little bit extra. It opens a window into a period of modern history that, despite its close proximity, could all too easily fade from memory.
The story is set in a South Devon barn and follows the struggle of its owner, Michael, as the foot-and-mouth pandemic spreads rapaciously across Britain’s countryside. Amidst this backdrop, over a period of 12 years, a turbulent friendship develops between Michael and Jeff, the local vet. After losing everything worth having, both must invest all they have left in each other.
Michael is an old cattle farmer who, being recently widowed, devotes everything he has to his herd. Jeff is a younger man and a successful vet; he has a beautiful wife, a child and a drinking problem. A long-standing friend of Michael’s, Jeff takes a personal interest in protecting his herd from the disease, giving him advice, reassurance and eventually becoming the appointed authority responsible for their extermination. However, the real story only begins in the wake of this catastrophe, following the mutual dependence that grows between the two men as each becomes the other’s last support.
The stage is transformed into an impressively detailed barn, which becomes the perfect frame to hold this story, and the play itself is performed brilliantly by David Fielder (Michael) and Nigel Hastings (Jeff). Though a cringingly unconvincing inebriate, Hastings adds a light-hearted touch that prevents the production from becoming bleak and wearisome. Fielder, on the other hand, cannot be faulted and suits his role perfectly. He infuses a heart-wrenchingly compassionate sensitivity into the core of the thickly accented, labour-hardened farmer.
It is no surprise that the script, by Bea Roberts, was commissioned after having won the Theatre503 Playwriting Award. The selective scene choices portrayed over a long time span produce a wonderful effect that works in combination with the sublime dialogue to provide a clear sketch of the characters’ lives,revealing all that needs to be known while withholding enough to stimulate the imagination.
Despite its heavy agricultural theme, And Then Come the Nightjars play is highly accessible. Even those urbanites whose rural experience doesn’t extend beyond watching Escape to the Country will have no trouble connecting with the themes of love, loss and dependence that this play so beautifully explores. Does it drag a bit towards the end? Maybe. Could it be fine-tuned further? Very probably. But, overall, a very worthwhile production.
And Then Come the Nightjars is on at Theatre503 from 2nd September until 26th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.