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‘And Then Come The Nightjars’ Twitter Q&A with playwright Bea Roberts

August 20th, 2015

On 14th August our award-winning playwright and writer of And Then Come The Nightjars, Bea Roberts, took part in a short 140-character Q & A session on Twitter. Here are some of the highlights.

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What was your first experience of theatre?

Panto at Theatre Royal Plymouth every year! Then Alex Jenning’s amazing Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Still love both.

Where is your favourite place to write?

In my parents’ garden in Devon. So peaceful to sit and listen to the birds and bad WiFi signal means no distraction.

Describe your first play in three words?

‘Environmental’, ‘Pompous’, ‘Short’. I was only 11 though and I starred/wrote/directed. Terrible idea.

How did you celebrate your 503 Award Season win?

Guinness/crying profusely/Prosecco. I think the other people on the train home were a little baffled.

Name a writer that inspires you.

SO many. Dennis Kelly / Enda Walsh / Victoria Wood / David Greig / Billy Wilder / Eugene Ionesco / Terrence Rattigan.

In what ways has your background influenced your work?

Rural life is hugely underrepresented nationally so a non-chocolate box love of the countryside is big for me.

How was your community affected by the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis?

South Devon was quite badly hit. A lot of local farms never restocked. Feels like it left scars everywhere.

How did you research the subject matter of the play?

I spoke to friends and family about their memories and my own, then lots of reading and scouring YouTube for clips.

Quote one of your favourite lines from the play.

“Nice having chickens clucking about the place, make it look a bit more Darling Buds of fucking May”

What makes And Then Come The Nightjars a pertinent piece of theatre?

It’s about how the past has shaped the present and where the countryside is going. Hopefully it’s impertinent too!

Finally, why should people come to see the play?

Because it’s got an incredible team behind it, a gurt big heart and a filthy laugh!


Many thanks to Bea Roberts for being such a good sport for this Twitter question and answer session. And Then Come The Nightjars is on from 2-26 Sept at Theatre 503 and from 6-17 Oct at Bristol Old Vic.


Guest Blog Post: James Swanton on ‘Frankenstein’s Creature’

August 19th, 2015

Next week we welcome Dippermouth and James Swanton to Theatre503, as they explore a new adaptation of the Gothic Classic – Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. James Swanton – actor and writer for ‘Frankensetin’s Creature’ – had this to say on the creation of this piece of new writing…


I wrote the body of Frankenstein’s Creature almost three years ago. My last one-man play, Charles Dickens’ Sikes & Nancy, was then in its infancy. Sikes & Nancy has since propelled me up and down the country and into the West End. Yet always in the role of Dickens’ servant, and, for the performance’s duration, his representative on earth. Frankenstein’s Creatureis my liberation from Dickens: as well as embodying a universe on the stage, I am at last that universe’s creator.

I’ve tempered this hubris by keeping to the framework of Mary Shelley’s novel. The process of adaptation has been a very pure one. In writing, I allowed new details to introduce themselves, but never where they felt forced. But whilst the script is faithful to Shelley’s spirit – or so I believe – there’s not a single sentence from her novel there. At this distance, the script feels like it was written by someone else again. Which is proving healthy in rehearsal.

Frankenstein’s Creature is a play that embraces transformation; the thrill of incarnating an otherworldly being for over an hour. In the past, transformation has been my ideal in acting. Thus the frantic monopolyloguing; the commitment to grotesquerie; the not infrequent gender-swapping – and Sikes & Nancy included all of these. On a base physical level, the Creature demands transformation. But, psychologically and emotionally, I’m discovering (rediscovering) that the play is more concerned more with enmeshment. Our desire to become one with other people; the terror of it. The most purely human experience, in fact: that difficulty in giving ourselves over to other human beings. Not for nothing is this a one-man play. In life, the best solution lies in relaxing into our own skins. This should be an acting transformation tempered with simplicity then; even a lightness.

For this Creature is all lightness, a considerable divergence from the filmic stereotype. Which is by no means the same as the filmic reality: Karloff’s Monster is towering in its simplicity. This Creature is a hypersensitive, even narcissistic being. Like some blithering Romantic poet, his tragedy may be that of someone who feels everything too acutely. The Creature’s tragedy is so uniform, so in the thrall of his hypersensitive capacity, that it ceases to feel grounded at all. You try to catch hold of it; you catch only air. When you enter the mindset of the alien – he who is cast out – you realise that you can’t blast out your messages with full-frontal anger. As alien, you make your meaning with exquisite subtlety – you wheedle, you worm, you quietly unsettle. A call for more lightness; for writing on air.

Yet for all this airy aspiration, Frankenstein’s Creature remains a chance to revel in mud and in muck. The play advances a character who is, in most respects, sickening: a life story in which iniquity and perversity are persistently framed as beauty. Or is it the other way around? We read Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis with compassion nowadays; if anything, with too much compassion. Yet had the letter fallen into the hands of Wilde’s persecutors, it would have been regarded like a tract from Jimmy Savile.

Wilde and Savile both had the gift of insinuating themselves into society. Not so the Creature. He is the ultimate outsider. Is this a figure who can understand, let alone meaningfully want humanity? We often try to complete the Beast with a Beauty. But this may go no further than fairytales. The Beast stands alone. And perhaps he goes further still, embracing his ugliness as superior. The undesirable parading their most undesirable facets as radiant – this is the purest definition of the grotesque I know. The Creature should encourage us to look away. But we must feel compelled to probe his mystery.

Perhaps the real curse falls on the physically bland, the physically unremarkable. As cheated of love as the ugly may be, they are backed into a corner that proves decisive. Many Great Men have been ugly. And it goes without saying that they have the best stories.

James Swanton

Assistant Director’s Diary – ‘And Then Come The Nightjars’

August 18th, 2015

The most valuable thing I have learned in the last few months while beginning my journey as a theatre director, is how important it is to get new experience. Having trained and worked as an actor, I started directing at the beginning of 2015. As soon as I had my first job under my belt, I wrote to all the directors I’d worked with and whose work I admired, asking if I could assist them. The wonderful Robert Shaw Cameron got back in touch and by the Spring I was working at Theatre503 assisting him on I and The Village by Silva Semerciyan. When it came to casting my next show, Nights by Alex Bower (which returns to the White Bear Theatre 22 – 26 September) and I hit a rough patch, I had lots of people to guide me. Paul Robinson, Artistic Director of Theatre503, was particularly helpful, putting some names my way and introducing me to his casting team. Shortly afterwards, Paul called me asking if I was available to interview for the position of AD on his next project.


And Then Come, 503 © Jack Sain 2015-7760

And Then Come The Nightjars charts the friendship between Michael, a widowed Devonshire farmer and his local vet, Jeff, as they battle the Foot-and-Mouth pandemic of 2001. Before rehearsals began we went on a field trip to a farm in Dartmoor and met Phil and Mandi Heard whose entire livestock was slaughtered in 2001. Phil described how, once the government had announced the contiguous cull policy, whereby any livestock within a 3km radius of an affected area were to be destroyed, much of his time was spent tracking FMD on a large Ordnance Survey map. It quickly became clear that geography was key. Early into rehearsals and with the help of Bea (Roberts, the writer) we marked on maps where the fictional Ashwalden lay within the Devon countryside and in relation to the Tamar River. In our minds’ eye we all held the image of Phil, carefully marking with a compass each of the rings of disease as it inched closer to his prize winning Charolais bulls.


And Then Come, 503 © Jack Sain 2015-8170 A play short in length but of epic proportions and spanning 13 years in just over an hour, an essential part of my role as Assistant Director was to create a timeline of events. Initially, it was important to get down the key dates that related to the disease. The Foot-and-Mouth crisis was a highly complex issue; falling in the same year as a general election, every procedure in relation to the disease became a political manoeuvre. On 7th May, Tony Blair announced the new general and local election date, national press attention turned to the upcoming general election and all press conferences on FMD were cancelled for the duration of the election. Despite this, the contiguous cull policy and ensuing crisis continued to escalate. Interesting facts arose. In June 2001, MAFF changed their name to DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), then on 9th July they announced (under their new name) that mistakes in the diagnosis of FMD led to the unnecessary slaughter of over 200,000 animals.


 And Then Come, 503 © Jack Sain 2015-8089Now, with a good handle on the arc of events that year, we have started to mine the text itself for facts about Jeff and Michael and add them to our timeline. When did Michael, Jeff, Sheila and Helen celebrate New Year’s Eve together, watching the fireworks from the hay loft. How long ago did Jeff “try it on with Shane Dimpsey’s missus in front of everyone, including him, in the beer garden of the Drake – with no trousers on?”! Gradually we’re being drawn in to the fabric of this world.


And Then Come, 503 © Jack Sain 2015-8140

My assisting experience has taught me how essential it is to be intuitive and supportive in a rehearsal room. Sometimes it’s not helpful to chime in with your thoughts and opinions when the space is already fraught with feeling, differing perspectives and emotion. Keep a notebook, be selective and choose when it’s a good moment to ask a question or make a point. As an assistant, supporting the director should be your priority, while of course absorbing as much as you can about the creative process.


And Then Come, 503 © Jack Sain 2015-8202Rebecca Loudon

Assistant Director

And Then Come The Nightjars

Theatre503 & Bristol Old Vic

‘And Then Come The Nightjars’ – Trailer Release

August 13th, 2015

We are delighted to reveal our trailer for upcoming Award Season show ‘And Then Come the Nightjars’ by Bea Roberts

Take to Twitter and tell us what you think with the hashtags ‪#‎NightjarsPlay‬ and ‪#‎503AwardSeason‬ – don’t forget to tag our handle @theatre503

“You hardly ever see ʻem, only hear them. They fly silent. Itʼs bad luck is Nightjars. Itʼs a bird oʼdeath.”


The Gambit…Q&A with writer Mark Reid & actor Ben Rigby

July 22nd, 2015

Mark Reid’s new play The Gambit is coming to Theatre503 with Manchester based production company Rampant on  Read what Mark, Rampant Artistic Director, and one of the plays performers Ben Rigby had to say about the production…


Q:  What inspired this production? Did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

Mark: This was an exercise as part of the Royal Exchange writers group, to bring in a story from that day’s newspaper.  I found one I felt was inherently undrammatic (two players having a game of chess for the first time in 25 years), to challenge the group.  A colleague reversed the challenge on to me.  Because there was something in the situation which chimed with my personal life it all came together.

Q:  Why take your work to Edinburgh and why preview your work at Theatre503?

Mark: Partly because it’s a show that we all believe should have small opportunity to get in front of a wider audience, and partly for the chance to be part of the atmosphere of the Edinburgh Festival fringe.

Ben: Absolutely, and it makes sense to get down to London for some previews, as a Northern based company we’re often on the outside of the conversation, but to get into a fantastic space like Theatre503 and to showcase the production before taking it to the festival seems like a no-brainer.

Q. What can the audience expect to see and feel – or even think – of your production?

Mark: It is an intimate piece of chamber theatre but with two highly intellectual and combative characters – thereby giving plenty of scope for big ideas.  But it’s driven by a universal human story of friendship and what can happen when it goes wrong.  It’s set in a single room around a chess set but the imagination takes it across Europe.

Ben:  And it’s the human story that really resonates.  The chess is merely a metaphor for the complexities of the relationship, the resounding feedback we have had from audiences is that they too have experienced the loss of friendship that Garry and Anatoly exhibit in the play.