Foot And Mouth Epidemic Threatens To Destroy An Old Friendship

And Then Come The Nightjars at Theatre 503 ★★★★☆

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 37 months ago
Foot And Mouth Epidemic Threatens To Destroy An Old Friendship And Then Come The Nightjars at Theatre 503 4
Photo by Jack Sain.

Winner of last year's Theatre 503 Playwriting Award, And Then Come The Nightjars is a heartfelt odd couple story set against the backdrop of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. Michael (David Fielder) is an elderly Devon farmer facing the prospect that his herd will be slaughtered by the government in an effort to halt the disease. His friendship with local vet Jeff (Nigel Hastings) is tested when police turn up at the farm threatening to arrest Michael if he does not comply.

Theatre 503 have a knack at transforming its tiny space for every show and this production's design by Max Dorey is no exception. Made to look and feel exactly like a cow barn — complete with cob webby ceiling, dusty floor, unreliable lighting, muck and random paraphernalia everywhere — the set is convincingly truncated so we can imagine it is far bigger than it is, the space stretching out into the audience and its door opening onto a farmyard. Varied lighting by Sally Ferguson subtly suggests different times of day, either streaming in from the skylight or reduced to the glare of a single light bulb.

The story follows the pair over ten years, watching them slowly rebuild their friendship and move beyond the crisis. Fielder is charming as the perfect embodiment of stoic, no-nonsense farmer Michael, a character that anybody who grew up in the countryside will recognise. His unlikely pairing with posh vet Jeff sees them help each other through the hardest times in their lives, muddling through with a mixture of joshing banter and genuine affection despite the silly, sometimes heart-breaking, decisions they both make.

Although the play very realistically re-creates everyday life in the modern British countryside, the characters are a little idealised, their behaviour never shocks too much and their mistakes are always forgivable. Fielder and Hastings have a natural chemistry however, their deft handling of the duologue engaging us in their personal emotional drama. And Then Come The Nightjars focuses on an ordinary friendship surviving through many trials, which is made extraordinary by shared loyalty and love.

And Then Come The Nightjars runs at Theatre 503 until 26 September. Tickets £15/12 (with pay-what-you-can on Sundays). Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 08 September 2015