Five minutes with playwright Emily Jenkins

Bobby & Amy is on tour to venues in the house network during November 2021. We asked Emily Jenkins, the play’s writer, for five minutes of her time…

Can you tell us how the show came about?

Bobby & Amy is inspired by my childhood, growing up in a small rural village in the Cotswolds. I remember going back to my village a few years ago and admiring how beautiful and idyllic it was and wanting to revisit the experience of growing up there, in my writing. But there was this strange feeling in my tummy, like the rolling hills and Cotswold stone were hiding some darker past. I began to remember snippets from 2001 when I was only 14, and my town, and others like it, were suddenly plastered in tape and surrounded by tubs of disinfectant. Initially, I didn’t really understand what was happening, but I remember seeing on the news the horrible images of burning cows as over 6 million livestock were ordered to be culled to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. As I delved into my memory of that time I realised that nothing I had seen in the theatre had really talked about it or explored the stories of the people involved. Bobby & Amy comes from a nostalgia for my rural childhood, from the pains and confusions of growing up, and from finding your own kind of family; but through that it has ended up being an exploration of community, resilience, and a huge national event that changed so many lives and livelihoods.

How is the tour going, now it’s off the marks?

It has been going brilliantly. The audiences’ responses have been amazing and every theatre we have visited has been so warm and welcoming. We’ve also had some great reviews: Mark Lawson in the Guardian called it ‘gripping’ and ‘superb’.

What’s it been like to revisit the work after a couple of years, and bring it back to audiences?

It’s amazing what a difference two years can make to our perspective on the world. The play was received extremely well in Edinburgh in 2019 with many people enjoying the incredible multi-role work by actors Will (Howard) and Kim (Kimberley Jarvis), and being moved by Bobby and Amy’s relationship as they found each other and began their tumultuous journey towards adulthood. But now audiences are connecting on a whole other level. Suddenly the story of a community in lockdown has come to the fore. The smell of disinfectant and anti-bac is in our collective consciousness, the feelings of isolation and separation still recent in our memories, and the consequent loss of incomes and livelihoods a continuing experience for many. The play hasn’t changed, and at heart it’s still a story of friendship and community, but what people are now taking away from it is very different from two years ago. And, as theatre-makers, that’s a fascinating journey to witness.

Tell us your favourite line or moment from the play.

This play not only celebrates rural communities, but also the incredible actors that perform in it. Will and Kim play 21 characters without a single costume change, and yet they still manage to make every moment truthful and heartfelt (and often hilarious, too). There are a couple of moments later in the play where the whole community come together in the same room. The dexterity and skill with which Kim and Will create a whole town of people without dropping a beat, is a sight to behold.

What do you want the audience to go away feeling about the experience?

I want audiences to watch the show and walk away feeling lots of joy and a little bit of sadness. I want them to feel nostalgia for the past and hope for the future. I want them to have laughed a lot and cried a little and, if they’ve any room left, to be in awe of the talent and performances of our two actors.

But, perhaps most importantly, I want those audience members from rural communities – who might have personally experienced the horrors of the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak – to feel empowered. Because that’s where this story comes from and that’s who, I hope, it honours.

Which town(s) are you looking forward to visiting with the show and why? 

We’re excited about visiting every town! But personally, I’m excited about visiting Farnham as I’ve offered to run a pre-show workshop on multi-roleing with a local community group and I know it’s going to be a lot of fun!