For many of the people sitting in the audience for Bobby & Amy, the foot and mouth epidemic may feel like a distant memory, forgotten after the bird and swine flu outbreaks that followed. For any millennials in the room, they may not have any recollections of the disease at all – only heard about it in passing. In this two-hander written by Emily Jenkins, we go back to the late 90s, just before the culling and closed off paths in the countryside. Told through the eyes of two 13-year-old children, Bobby & Amy casts light on the repercussions of the agricultural disease on a small rural town in the Cotswolds.
In a town where everyone knows everybody, Bobby (Will Howard) and Amy (Kimberley Jarvis) both feel like outsiders. Both bullied by the older kids in the town, they two teenagers find refuge in a folly by a cattle farm owned by Farmer Rog – the father of Bobby’s bully, Slayer Slater. Each with problems at home and no-one else to turn to, Bobby and Amy find comfort in each other’s company, together helping Farmer Rog tend to his cows.
Knowing the inevitable role FMD will have to play on her imagined characters’ community – and the audience’s own realisation of this – Jenkins’ chooses to not make the outbreak the main focus of her play. Instead, Bobby & Amy presents the beautiful blossoming of a relationship between two young individuals who have struggled to fit in. It’s not a perfect relationship: not old enough to fully understand the reason behind Bobby’s fascination with numbers and his social quirks, Amy is reluctant at first to be associated with him. Yet as time goes on, we see the two encourage each other in a way that feels authentic and endearing to watch, and later share in their pain as the world they once knew beings to collapse around them.
The youthfulness of the characters is accentuated by Jenkins’ fast-paced dialogue. Scenes are painted for us by Bobby and his eye for detail, allowing our imagination to do the rest. Despite the serious subject-matter that underscores the play, this is a dark comedy filled with sharp wit and moments of raucous laughter from the audience. It is an excellent piece of new writing that feels real, refusing to become melodramatic.
The success of Jenkins’ work – and the real treasure of Bobby & Amy – is down to the phenomenal performances by Howard and Jarvis. Not only do they share 20 roles between them both, in this particular performance – a relaxed show that has limited lighting changes and no loud sounds – all of the audience’s attention is on the two actors. Yet the talent of these two actors is limitless as they convincingly portray the townsfolk Bobby and Amy have grown up knowing. Their portrayal of Amy’s bullies in particular – the bleating ‘goats’ Tiff, Kelly and Stace – is hilarious to watch. Each character is easily distinguishable in terms of their facial expressions, gestures and characteristics – even in the quickfire dialogue between the teenagers and the older members of the community. It is a masterclass in how to portray a variety of different roles at once.
Even though we are expecting it, the arrival of the FMD isn’t made any less devastating. The repercussions it has on Bobby, Amy and their hometown is devastating to witness; yet, even in the bleakest of moments, their hopefulness and refusal to let it ruin their town rallies the spirits of the other characters and the audience alike.
While Bobby & Amy may not have the happiest of endings, it is all the better for it. It doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat or rewrite history. Riveting and moving throughout, Jenkins, Howard and Jarvis have together created a fantastic theatre experience, reminding us how powerful stripped-back storytelling can be.