Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | And Then Come the Night Jars at Theatre 503
Ginger Hibiscus | And Then Come the Night Jars at Theatre 503
Ginger Hibiscus | And Then Come the Night Jars at Theatre 503
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10 Sep REVIEW: And Then Come the Nightjars at Theatre 503

The memory of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic is one synonymous with the sight of towering pyres across the countryside, great thunderclouds of smoke billowing from piles of burning cattle. It’s an image most will never forget, even if only witnessed on TV, livestock and livelihoods quite literally going up in thick, black smoke, a heartbreaking beacon marking the slaughter of millions of animals, and the virtual closure of the countryside.

Pivoting around the events of 2001, And Then Come the Nightjars looks at the human experience of being caught up in the epidemic, exploring how, ten years on, the scars are still evident on both the landscape and the people it affected. But beyond the perimeter of the epidemic isolation zone, it looks at the challenges that continue to emerge for farmers trying to make a living from the land, a story of resilience, determination and passion, all through the intimate friendship between two world-weary men.

A devastating play made all the more poignant for how real the story is, Bea Roberts’ script is beautifully constructed, bursting with humour in a way that balances the tone, resulting in a show that can genuinely be enjoyed whilst the very serious themes remain undiminished. In having these events happen almost as a backdrop, rather than being the storyline in itself, Roberts is able to focus on the two people at the heart of her play: Michael and Jeff, a farmer and his veterinarian. From cattle shed calving banter to inebriated antics, they’re brought vividly to life through the interplay of written characterisation and convincing acting, courtesy of Roberts, and David Fielder and Nigel Hastings respectively.

As Jeff, Nigel Hastings is every bit the Devonshire farmer, with an unkempt beard and the look of wearing a perpetual layer of dirt, a man with a big laugh who’s lived for “his girls,” un-PC and hopeless with pub quiz trivia, but warm, fiercely passionate, and incredibly funny. Almost, but not quite, a caricature, he contrasts starkly with the more measured Michael, the pair of them unlikely but persuasive friends.

Sally Ferguson’s lighting design exhibits an unexpected degree of sophistication; as an audience member it’s almost possible to feel the passage of time, as the sun rises and sets through the cattle shed rafters. Cinematic in effect, it’s touches like this, and the inclusion of a set (Max Dorey) that could literally have been lifted straight from a farmyard, that take And Then Come the Nightjars from being just a very good script to being an excellent show, the quality of the production values glistening in a spotlight that’s focused on a community more at home with having dirt beneath the fingernails than basking in the theatricals. Funny, quirky and breathing with humanity, it’s a production you can’t help but feel a great deal of affection for, and one that will stay fixed in the mind for a long time yet to come.

Correction: Set design was initially incorrectly credited to Max Perryment; amended to Max Dorey

For tickets and information:
Venue: Theatre 503
Dates: 2nd – 26th September 2015

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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