TWENTY YEARS AGO, ANOTHER HEALTH CRISIS CHANGED LIVES
Just before the pandemic closed everything down, Emily Jenkins’ deft two-hander won a top Edinburgh Fringe award and many plaudits. It took us back two decades to the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis: six million mainly healthy cows were shot and burnt on pyres, the army had to be called in; family farms, traditions and carefully bred herds were ruined, eight billion lost to the economy, footpaths and whole areas fenced off to the public.
It is interesting to be taken back to memories of that time, in the aftermath of our own human health crisis: you can draw private parallels about poor planning, slow response and authoritarian government enforcement creating a sense of unease in communities normally happy to look inward and get on with their lives.
Kimberly Jarvis and Will Howard play 21 parts, at the centre of it being two teenagers in an unnamed small town in the Cotswolds. He is an oddball – probably living with a degree of Aspergers, obsessed with counting and finding safety in facts. They are friends, hanging out together round an old folly tower in the fields, both with difficult family situations. Vocally and physically they evoke a whole town: an angry father, a weary mother with a troubling new partner a bit too keen on Amy, local bullies, a pharmacist, a helplessly blustering council official and – importantly – a local farmer who gives them a ride on his tractor and lets them watch the difficult birth and survival of a calf in the barn. Amy takes the farmer’s voice and hauls the calf clear: Bobby, rigid with nervous fear, strokes the invisible cow’s nose, calming her, and when the calf coughs into life, names it Abigail. All this is finely evoked in the empty black-box setting: classic fringe skills from both performers.
So that when the fences go up, and the government orders, and the terrible fire where they glimpse skulls, eyes, faces, Abigail, her mother – the shock is considerable to all of us. And the words “Something inside us has shrunk” are met with still, attentive horror. And of course the farm will be sold. And houses built on the green land, and “holiday home” signs up, and Range Rovers, and their world has ended, and the farmer’s tragedy is completed.
But during the time of change the teenagers protest occupying the old folly, naive and simple-hearted, the misery of it all alleviated by the support of the town who, again rather wonderfully, the two of them evoke from their eyrie. And time goes by, and we glimpse their new evolving near-adult world.
Because Jenkins’ intention is not to leave us all miserable, but to remind us in 75 minutes of a crisis, a neglected community suffereing its impact, and the way that in the end, we all have to carry on. If it comes your way, give it that hour or so.
box office bobbyandamy.co.uk TOURING to 27 November: dates left are
Artsdepot tonight, then Harlow, IoW, Tonbridge, Folkestone, Farnham, Colchester, Wells next the Sea, Swindon