And Then Come The Nightjars Review

How can two actors… be on stage for 75 minutes… with no interval… or scene changes… and without me looking at my watch once? How can a story… hold you for that long? How can a play… breathe and move? No, it’s not a riddle – it’s simple. Sometimes a play is so organic it moves beyond the footlights and wraps around you.

Set in South Devon, against the backdrop of the Foot and Mouth tragedy in 2001, the play And Then Come The Nightjars (#NightjarsPlay), sees Michael, a cattle farmer and Jeff, a dairy vet have their working relationship pushed to the brink.

When a play is promoted with: Fourteen 4 star reviews and six ‘Off West End’ nominations including ‘Best New Play’, it is sometimes hard to go with an open mind. Expectation can be a killer.

However, the collaboration and love for the text, written by new playwright, Bea Roberts; sagely directed by Paul Robinson and starring David Fielder (Michael) and Nigel Hastings (Jeff) was strikingly evident. The performances were authentic; from their voices, to their physicality, to the raw emotion. It was even more evident, during a Meet The Cast and Director afterwards, where the team discussed the making of the play. The free session, chaired by Graeme Thompson, Live Theatre’s Creative Producer, in Newcastle, gave more insight into this organic collaboration by the whole creative team; the research carried out by the actors and Bea’s back story around those events on farms around the whole country. Paul also shared the fact that the play, selected from 1500 scripts, was the winner of the Theatre503 Playwriting Award. Some stories just have to be told.

A special mention must go to Max Dorey (Stage Designer) and Sally Ferguson (Lighting Designer) who have been nominated for Best Design by the UK Theatre Awards. Also the contribution from Olly Fox (Composer) and Max Perryment (Sound Designer) was outstanding. Last week, the play The 56 was stripped back with regards the set and props, in order to add solemnity. Whereas, in ‘Nightjars’ the set, a farmer’s barn, was integral – it became a third character; it had a life of its own. The attention to detail and the props used, all added to the narrative. And to top it all, the various types of lighting, music and special effects were used creatively to link scenes and convey mood and the passage of time.

Again Live Theatre lends itself well to one- location plays – no curtains, no scene changes. Shakespeare would be proud! Especially, as there are Elizabethan timbers as part of the building’s structure and the cabaret-style seating near the stage, has a Groundlings feel about it.

Speaking with Paul the director, after the discussion, I praised the use of space and silences in the production. I particularly loved the scene when no-one was on stage, for what seemed five minutes, but was probably about two. The audience was silent and still too – watching the barn, hearing the noises of the countryside and smelling it. Although the smells were probably in my imagination? The ‘un-saids’ are important and it takes a confident, brave director to utilise them. At that point Paul said “…a play needs rhythm.” How true. Like a piece of music or poetry a play needs light and shade; ebbs and flows; ups and downs. I chatted with Nigel too and he was very modest, saying that it’s easy to work with such a script as Bea’s. I only wish I could have spoken with Bea and David too. When something looks that easy and fluid on stage, you know it has been painstakingly developed, researched and rehearsed. Anyone can read a line. It takes experience and talent to interpret it. Such writing, acting, directing, composing and design brings tears to my eyes; makes me come away mulling it over and spurs me on to develop my writing.

Animals and nature were woven throughout the text from cows to birds, to eggs, to sunrises and sunsets – yes, this tale was truly organic in more ways than one. And nature and man and the barn emanated friendship, loss, love and renewal. Hope.

As I was writing this review, early this morning, I could hear thunder and lightning and rain lashing down; the light above me gave a flicker and there was no dawn chorus. And I was feeling sad that I had to bring this review to a close; the same feeling of sadness, when I felt And Then Come The Nightjars was coming to a close last night. Sadly I knew there could be no encore. But I also knew that the memories of the evening would be indelible.

Wendy Errington
Live Theatre Blogger, September

And Then Come The Nightjars is on tour throughout September and October, at various theatres and church halls, presented by Theatre503 and Bristol Old Vic, in association with Tara Finney Productions. See here for tour dates. The play was at Live Theatre from Wednesday 14 September to Saturday 17 September.