Mellow folk-rock music drifts across a softly-lit stage as the audience walk into the Byre Theatre in St Andrews. On the stage, a small shed. An atmosphere of rural, country life with a hint of melancholy is instantly conveyed, and the sheer detail of the set with its wealth of props and attention to detail – down to some stray straw on the floor and some broken ropes on the rafters – instantly creates a sense of realism and grants the audience an intimate view into the lives of the characters. This is the scene for And Then Come the Nightjars, a Theatre 503 and Bristol Old Vic production, presented by Perth Theatre in collaboration with Theatre by the Lake, Keswick.
As the play opens this insular environment becomes all the more captivating due to the skilled portrayal of characters Jeffrey by Nigel Hastings and Michael by Finlay Welsh. The first lines are somewhat shaky, the strong Devon accent of Welsh’s Michael failing to project and meaning the punch of the opening dialogue is lost. However, this is quickly forgotten, especially due to the dynamism and chemistry portrayed on stage. Any chance of boredom from the single set and tiny cast of two is eradicated with the slow build of the relationship between the characters being expertly portrayed.
There is a real sense of movement, all the more impressive as the characters remain in the same space, and the strength of the script, direction and acting means it feels like a whole world has been conveyed on stage, and the audience is being offered a detailed and beautiful glimpse into the complex lives of the characters.
There are brief moments of uncomfortable melodrama, with Jeffrey’s drunkenness being so over-pronounced – his staggering goes beyond comedy to overshadow the dialogue and message of the scene – but again the chemistry and dynamism of the actors as they bounce off one another and weave from bitter arguments to witty banter with ease creates well rounded portrayals of difficult and complex characters.
The story is captivating and fascinating, with the audience becoming embroiled in the lives of the two characters. Intense emotion is created and sustained with a real sense of history being portrayed between the two. As Michael sifts through heaps of award ribbons to try and save the life of his cows and the two reminisce about New Year’s Eve with lost lovers, the complex and often-overlooked topics of male friendship, loss and the catastrophic effects of foot and mouth disease are portrayed.
As the play ends there is a sense that the audience have seen something truly special and overwhelmingly intimate unfold. And Then Come the Nightjars is a wonderful work of theatre that offers a truly captivating and emotional slice of human life and portrays it excellently with superb acting and staging.