Theatre review: Bobby & Amy, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Nothing is more important to the shape and survival of a society than the way it uses land, and often abuses it.

Bobby & Amy, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

Bobby & Amy, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh * * * *

In our highly urbanised western society, though, it’s a subject to which most of us rarely give a thought; which is why Emily Jenkins’s new play Bobby & Amy, playing to packed houses at the Pleasance, is both exceptional and exciting in the contribution it makes to this year’s Fringe.

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Set during the foot and mouth crisis of the early 2000s, when millions of farm animals across the UK were slaughtered and burned in the fields, Bobby & Amy explores the impact of the crisis on two exceptionally vulnerable young people, bullied by their schoolmates and largely excluded from the life of their small Cotswold town. Bobby is autistic, brilliant at maths but awkward with people; Amy’s father is dead, and her single mother so hard-up – and so obsessed with her new boyfriend – that Amy is a local laughing-stock.

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The story is not all gloom, as Bobby and Amy’s friendship survives the storm, and the depressed town gradually begins to reap the ambiguous benefits of gentrification; and sometimes, Jenkins deploys the ancient stereotypes of rural life, from the parents made cruel by poverty to the old crone in the cottage, with a freedom that makes the story seem almost like a fairytale. At the heart of the play, though – beautifully captured by actors Will Howard and Kimberly Jarvis – is a profound sense of how rapidly England’s landscape has changed in the last quarter-century, and how powerless many ordinary people have felt in the face of those changes; a depth of insight that perhaps accounts for this play’s huge success with audiences, in this age of Brexit, and the widespread bafflement it has left in its wake.

Until 26 August