Struggling to remember the last time I saw a play set in the countryside and about rural life. Three Days in the Country doesn't count.
Bea Roberts' new play And Then Come the Nightjars has the foot and mouth outbreak as its central axis but is essentially a piece about friendship and the changing countryside economy.
Set in a barn on a Devon farm, brilliantly designed by Max Dorey, Michael (David Fielder) is watching over a cow due to calf. Local vet and friend Jeff (Nigel Hastings) is keeping him company.
They banter and bicker as old friends do; talk about the farm and their respective wives - Michael is widowed and Jeff's marriage is strained.
The threat of foot and mouth hovers in the background, the call of the Nightjar - in superstition a harbinger of death - heralds the future fate of Michael's prized and much loved herd.
Jumping forward in time to the day of the slaughter, Michael is resisting the MAFF-sanctioned orders to let his 'girls' be destroyed and Jeff is trying to persuade him to co-operate offering to ensure they have a humane end. We learn that with slaughter on such a large scale not all cows have a pain free death.
The rest of the play examines the fall out for Michael's farm and his relationship with Jeff.
Bea Roberts' play is gentle, warm and funny. There are hints at the less idyllic aspects of rural life and questions about the gentrification of the countryside as it becomes the preserve of holidaymakers and weekenders but this is a play that nibbles at these issues rather than bites.
Michael and Jeff's friendship: the ups, downs, amusing and sometimes laugh out loud funny banter is where its heartbeat truly lies. You can catch it at Theatre503 in Battersea until Sept 26 and it is an hour and 15 minutes without an interval.