A Farmer’s Tender Tale of Love and Loss

The foot and mouth epidemic that ripped through farms up and down the land in 2001 serves as the devastating background to a critically acclaimed play touring rural Scottish venues in April.

Penned by exciting young writer Bea Roberts, And Then Come the Nightjars is performed at the Eastgate Theatre on 12 April. Set in South Devon just as Foot and Mouth takes hold, the play follows Jeff, a dairy vet with a problem and Michael, a cattle farmer, who is a problem.

The two men have a begrudging respect for each other and a blossoming friendship based on sharing a fag, a nip of whisky, and boisterous banter. But when the disease sweeps through the British countryside, with the government decreeing that even apparently healthy cattle be slaughtered, farming communities are thrown into chaos. Michael watches, in grief-stricken disbelief, the shooting of his beloved cows. He also watches his friend brandish the gun.

Directed by Paul Robinson and starring Finlay Welsh and Nigel Hastings, this beautifully staged play won Theatre503’s inaugural international Playwriting Award in 2014 and went on to be nominated for six Off West End Theatre Awards, including Most Promising Playwright. Bea Roberts was also nominated for the prestigious Susan Blackburn Smith prize.

By turns heart-breaking and hilarious, it is a tender portrait of male friendship, and a requiem to a seemingly lost rural life.

It’s also a play that is very close to its writer’s heart. “I started writing Nightjars during the ten-year anniversary of Foot and Mouth in 2011 because I felt attention needed to be paid to this devastating period in our countryside’s history,” explained Bea Roberts, who grew up in Devon during the crisis. “I hope people whose lives were affected feel that their stories are being acknowledged and commemorated in some way even if their exact experience differs from our characters.

 “It’s also a play about recovery and resilience and there’s some hope in that even if things don’t turn out as you might have wanted.”

This Theatre503 and Bristol Old Vic production comes to Scotland following a partnership between Theatre by the Lake, Keswick and Perth Theatre as part of the latter’s offsite programme.

And Then Come the Nightjars is performed at the Eastgate Theatre at 7.30pm, Wednesday 12 April. Tickets £14. Age 12+.

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