We were very lucky to have the chance to see Bea Roberts’ award winning play, And Then Come The Nightjars, up in Scarborough. Usually new plays disappear quite quickly, however good they are, and this revival was part of a short two month tour from Bristol Old Vic. Its roots are firmly in the West country so we are a long way from its home but country people up here understand the devastating subject matter all too well. It is set during the foot and mouth outbreak which swept the country in 2001 and describes an unlikely friendship between a veteran dairy farmer, Michael, and his local vet, Jeff, who is battling a drink problem and the break up of his marriage. When the farmers healthy herd of pedigree cows has to be culled, by law, to help form a buffer against further spread of the disease it is Jeff who is called on to do it. This appalling crisis both deepens and challenges their friendship and there is great sensitivity in both the acting and the writing as the plot plays out. It is moving, tender and heartfelt with a welcome dry wit running through even this darkest of times.
I’m sure that Nigel Hastings, who did a fine job as Jeff, will not mind me saying that David Fielder was astonishingly good as Michael. It is a lovely part and he grabbed it with both hands. He was tough, funny and open hearted- much like some Yorkshire farmers who I met when I was teaching up in the Yorkshire Dales. He meant every word- his every thought was clear as a bell. Playing a two hander of this kind is intense and difficult and the two of them worked together quite beautifully. It was delightful to watch in a small space like the McCarthy.
During the question and answer session after the matinee that I saw the two actors said how delighted they were with the set and I don’t wonder. It was completely realistic in every detail, a ramshackle cow barn, designed by Max Dorey, and nothing else would have worked. It was also beautifully lit by Sally Ferguson, so beautifully lit that there were times when you could sit there and just take pleasure in the changing light as it fell through the roof slats. Quite simply this production gets everything right, and it’s not often you can say that. It had to. There are some subjects that you stay well away from unless you can do justice to people who went through terrible times and lost so much. I know some of them so there was gratitude mixed in with my admiration. They have been given the play that they deserved.