From Fringe First award-winner Emily Jenkins comes Bobby & Amy, a dark comedy about friendship, heartache and the repercussions of foot-and-mouth disease.
Hi Emily thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Thanks for having me! Everything is going really great thanks. Just gearing up for rehearsals for Bobby & Amy and doing all the usual Edinburgh planning. I’m excited to get in the room with Will and Kimberly - our two actors – we have a lot of fun in the rehearsal room so it’s going to be such an enjoyable time.
Are you all set for Edinburgh Fringe and The Pleasance?
Just about! It’s a lot of work and planning but our amazing producer Emma Blackman is so calm and organised she’s got everything under control. Bobby & Amy had a preview back in March 2019 at VAULT Festival London, where we received the Show of the Week award - which was a huge honour and a great boost before our Edinburgh premiere. We’re delighted to be at the Pleasance, as it’s a great venue for new work and comedy and has such a brilliant vibe. We still need to raise some money – Edinburgh is so expensive: yeesh! (And do keep your eyes peeled for our kickstarter Campaign launching later this month to help us cover artists and creative fees, in addition to registration and accommodation costs) – but other than us all being stone-cold-broke, we’re all set and raring to go.
Being a Fringe First award-winner it must feel great to be back at the festival, what was the experience like winning such an incredible award?
I’m thrilled to be going to Edinburgh again. It’s been 7 years since I last brought my work to the fringe as a writer and director and it feels like I’m coming home. Rainbow was the first ever play I wrote and in bringing it to the fringe it kicked off my career as a writer and opened up some amazing opportunities for me. So, to return to the fringe with Bobby & Amy, a play that is so close to my heart, feels really special and exciting.
Can you tell me a little bit about Bobby & Amy, how did this new play come about?
Bobby & Amy is a dark comedy about foot-and-mouth disease set in the late nineties. It probably sounds like a strange thing to write about but I remember growing up in the nineties in a small rural community and I remember the day yellow tape was strung across the fields and the cows started burning. It was a traumatic event to so many rural communities but I’d never seen a play tackle it, so I wanted to go back and explore it. I also love revelling in nineties nostalgia: hubba bubba, dip dabs, spice girls - god those were the days!
When you’re writing a new play how much of your own life and experiences is injected into your work?
In this play: a lot. This is the most personal play I’ve written to date. It’s still a fictionalised account of what happened, but it’s loosely set in the town I grew up in and is inspired by my own memories of growing up in a small rural community and how things have changed since foot-and-mouth. Bobby & Amy and the other characters in the play aren’t real people but I think a lot of people who grew up in similar places will recognise them as familiar faces!
"Directing is often an act of interpretation but when you’re doing that to something you’ve created yourself it can be extremely challenging."
Why do you think there has been so little discourse within theatre about this really important period in British history?
I think as a culture, and particularly in theatre, we are extremely city-centric (and often London-centric), which means that thousands of people’s stories are washed over and lost. People think that what happens out in the sticks doesn’t really affect them but farming and agriculture contribute billions to our economy, creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, and we rely on it for almost everything including food and drink (and alcohol!). I think it’s crazy we don’t talk about rural issues more; especially this period in history. It ruined lives, it destroyed businesses, herds bred for centuries were suddenly completely wiped out, and people were thrown into poverty. We’ve glazed over the trauma and it’s time we started speaking about it.
When you started writing Bobby & Amy did you discover anything new from this period that really shocked you?
I think one of the common misconceptions about the foot-and-mouth outbreak is that only livestock who had the disease were slaughtered, but this wasn’t the case. Entire herds were wiped out not just because they were infected, but in case they might be. Whole herds of healthy animals were killed to prevent the spread. Although 2,000 cases of the disease were found, by the end of the outbreak 6 million sheep, cattle and pigs had been slaughtered. 6 million!
What have been the biggest challenges bringing this production to life?
I know this might sound clichéd, but this has honestly been the most joyous production I have ever worked on. Everyone in the team is incredible: we have two exceptionally talented actors who play 22 characters without a single prop or costume change, and a 100% female creative and production team who are all talented artists in their own right. The only challenge, as always, is money. Funding a show in Edinburgh is extremely expensive and the chance of making your money back even if you sell-out, is slim. At the moment, we are funding it through our own savings - so it’s baked beans for breakfast lunch and dinner for the next year! - but we hope that there are some generous people out there somewhere who might be able to help us out.
How would you describe Bobby & Amy in 3 words?
Joyous, tragic, hilarious.
Worth your time
Not about Brexit.
As writer/director how do you balance these two roles?
It’s a very different experience directing your own work. Directing is often an act of interpretation but when you’re doing that to something you’ve created yourself it can be extremely challenging. It’s vitally important to have distance and to not be precious. Rehearsals are also a collaboration. The actors and creatives bring so many exciting ideas to the table that it stops becoming your work and becomes a team effort. The other plus side is that if something doesn’t work you just cut it or re-write it in the room without anyone getting upset!
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
I have. I was extremely lucky because my parents love theatre and took me regularly from a very young age. Then and now it was a magical thing for me: I loved to have people tell me a story, take me away from my life and paint a whole world in front of my eyes. I love all forms of storytelling but I think because theatre is live there is an imaginative pact that is created between actor and audience that is hard to replicate in other mediums. When you’re watching something truly great, it’s like you’re under a spell.
How has your style as a writer/director changed since you started?
When I started out I wasted a lot of energy trying to prove myself ‘worthy’. I tried to write what I thought other people wanted to see or be the kind of director I thought people wanted to employ. I was constantly trying to get other people’s approval and so wasn’t being myself. It was exhausting. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that being happier with myself and trusting myself as an artist is the most powerful thing I can do. That’s why Bobby & Amy is so special to me. It’s truthful, it’s honest even though it’s fictional, and because of that, I am really proud of it.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
“Don’t worry about what other people think. You’re enough. Trust yourself.” - Brilliant advice I still try and fail to implement every single day
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
I try not to offer advice without someone directly asking for it, I’m pretty sure most of my fellow theatre makers know way more than I do! All I’d say is: don’t wait for other people to give you permission to make work. Just go ahead and make it yourself.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
A feeling that they’ve seen something special. A feeling that out of all the thousands of shows they could have seen today at the fringe, they’re glad they picked this one.