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And Then Come the Nightjars

Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Three stars

The barn may initially appear biblical at the opening of Bea Roberts' play, revived for a short tour of the Scottish countryside after being seen in London and Bristol throughout 2015. The wise men who occupy it, however, have precious few gifts left to give in an at times brutal treatise on country matters. It begins in 2001, when South Devon vet Jeff and farmer Michael are holed up with Michael's cattle in the thick of the foot and mouth scare that decimated the rural landscape at the time. As the pair spar their way through a crisis that lays bare their more personal losses, the lives of both men are changed forever as they find some kind of grim solidarity amongst all the despair.

Paul Robinson's original production for Theatre503 and Bristol Old Vic is overseen here by a partnership of Perth Theatre and Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Over its seventy-five minutes, the play highlights a way of life under siege in a rural world that's as prone to fall prey to gentrification hungry developers as much as those living in the city.

As played by Nigel Hastings and Finlay Welsh, Jeffrey and Michael are like Beckettian dinosaurs who refuse to be killed off. There are moments between the two men that can't help but remind one too of the tragi-comic cross-class alliance between Ted and Ralph in The Fast Show. Any lingering pathos that might be there is offset by a coarser form of co-dependence that reveals the reluctant friendship of a pair of relics who survive the worst by refusing to play dead.

The Herald, April 13th 2017

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