Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Bea Roberts: And Then Come The Nightjars

By | Published on Thursday 27 August 2015

Next week sees the staging of playwright Bea Roberts’ first full length work ‘And Then Come The Nightjars’, a play which explores the effects of the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. The piece has been produced for the London stage by Theatre503 – as the opener to their autumn 2015 season – after it became one of two winners of their international playwriting award, selected from more than 1600 submissions.


To find out more about the play, and the playwright, I sent some questions over to Roberts, ahead of the opening night.

CM: Can you tell us what ‘And Then Come The Nightjars’ is about? What’s the basic storyline (without giving too much away, of course).
BR: The play follows the friendship between a foul-mouthed elderly farmer, Michael, and his local vet, Jeff, as they navigate the Foot and Mouth disease crisis of 2001. We then follow them for the next 15 years and see what happens to them and to the farming community of Devon. The title comes from the old English folklore belief that nightjars cause sickness in cattle.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
BR: Essentially, it’s a show about friendship but it also looks more widely at the way rural life has changed and is continuing to change in Britain. It starts in dark times but there’s a lot of warmth and comedy in it too.

CM: What made you decide to write a play about this particular subject matter?
BR: I started working on the play in 2010 which was the ten year anniversary of the Foot and Mouth disease crisis. Growing up in rural Devon and living through it it had had a big impact on my friends and family but it didn’t seem to be really reported in the national press. I started talking about my memories of it with friends who had similar rural backgrounds and the idea for the play began to form.

CM: Do you have strong views about what happened in 2001? Is there any agenda, political or otherwise, to this piece?
BR: I think the Foot and Mouth crisis was a real tragedy not just for the loss of animal life but for the way it affected farmers and their communities directly. Many farmers left farming afterwards and it was a trauma that hasn’t really been discussed or marked nationally. I didn’t set out with an overtly political agenda but I write what I’m passionate about so the piece certainly has a lot of heart and my feelings about the countryside I grew up in woven into its fabric.

CM: Have you been hands-on involved with this production? Or did you hand the script over and step back?
BR: I’m writing this during a break in rehearsals so I have been fairly hands on! One of the things I love about working in theatre is the collaboration between actors, director, designers, composers – it’s a long list. My role in all that is to make sure the play is in good working order and once the script is as tight as I can get it then it becomes my job to get out of the way and let the actors get on with it!

CM: The play is a winner of Theatre503’s playwriting award – do you think winning this will have an impact on the future of this show, and indeed, your career as a writer?
BR: I have no idea! Theatre503 are a fantastic theatre to work with and I’ve loved being involved with the production so, if nothing else, I hope to work with them all again in the future.

CM: What made you want to become a playwright? What advice would you have for other playwrights?
BR: I’ve written since I was young and always loved theatre. I used to act in lots of shows and write a large amount of terrible poetry but when I started writing plays at university it was suddenly the right fit and, luckily, I’ve been able to continue doing what I love. My advice for new playwrights would be to see and read as much work as possible and keep an open mind both to what sort of work you’d like to make and what you’ll watch. It’s a constant learning curve.

CM: What’s next for you?
BR: I’d like to write about quicksand, robots and the stock market – although not necessarily in the same piece!

‘And Then Come The Nightjars’ is on at Theatre503 from 2-26 Sep. See the venue website here for more information and tickets.  You can find info about the playwriting award here.

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