Tag Archives: Emily Jenkins



VAULT Festival 2020

The First

Pit – The Vaults

Reviewed – 11th February 2020



“one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger”


You would hardly expect one of the small venues at the VAULT Festival to host an epic, but Barry McStay’s “The First” offers a space odyssey that deserves a universe of stars.

This 60-minute two-hander features two astronauts on the first crewed space mission to Mars hoping to make history. Back home a war of the words breaks out about the Martian expedition, with two writers battling to produce a speech suitable for the US President to praise its success – and another to deliver should it fail.

The play was inspired by the famous speech given by President Nixon when Apollo 11 saw the first men land on the Moon in 1969 and the alternative version which praised the crew’s sacrifice in the event of a fatality – much in the news over the 50th anniversary of the mission last year.

McStay’s rich and heart-stirring script probes a possible future scenario that feels all too real and credible with its clever parallel dramas of the eager astronauts discovering things starting to go wrong with their vessel only days away from touchdown on the Red Planet and two imaginative writers tussling with words of triumph or remorse.

In just an hour the tightly-written play manages to consider heroism, positivity in the face of danger, a depth of human relationships, coping with tragedy and humanity’s innate desire to explore beyond frontiers.

Playing all four roles are Katrina Allen and Daniel Ward, with barely a heartbeat marking the switch from the space travellers to the writers. Multi-role playing is never easy, but the two actors manage it effortlessly.

Allen is the all-American no-nonsense astronaut Rose, who envisages her face being carved on the side of a mountain to commemorate her fame. She gave up a boyfriend in favour of making the trip and Allen captures this personal sacrifice alongside the excitement the character feels at being a pioneer.

Her colleague on-board is the gay black Englishman Simeon, who Ward plays with authority. His wake-up music on the ship is the theme to “2001” (hers is Europe’s “The Final Countdown”) and he wants a school named after him . There are some fabulous moments where the pair discuss the fact that everything they do on Mars will be “the first…” yet both recognise the emotional effects of knowing that no other human beings have ever been so far apart from other humans.

Ward is also the brash and experienced political hack Marcus, forced to work on the two possible scripts with celebrated screenwriter Alisha (Allen), whose successful TV show has just been cancelled by the network.

Allen and Ward work together splendidly throughout, arguing a liberal vs conservative political agenda while developing a grudging respect for one another as the writers and keeping spaceboots solidly on terra firma as the trailblazing astronauts.

Director Emily Jenkins makes every second count, keeping an energetic pace without losing important moments of silence and reflection. Movement director Mikey Brett manages to make the astronauts look weightless, with adroit use of minimal props and set (Delyth Evans’ two tables and two chairs are skilfully utilised on an appropriately claustrophobic traverse stage with a large red disc on one wall representing Mars).

“The First” is one small step at the VAULT Festival, but it must surely be destined for a giant leap to something much bigger with a potential stage or screen production that will be out of this world.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Alessandra Davison


VAULT Festival 2020



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Bobby and Amy


Pleasance Courtyard

Bobby and Amy

Bobby and Amy

Pleasance Courtyard

Reviewed – 5th August 2019



“a transporting, beautiful, heartfelt reminder that strength and resilience can be found in unexpected places”


It’s the late nineties and Bobby and Amy are thirteen years old. She’s a social outcast, still grieving the death of her father. He’s on the autism spectrum, dodging bullies after school. As fellow misfits, they form a reluctant companionship which quickly grows into a deep, fiercely loyal friendship. The play follows Bobby and Amy on adventures around their small, working-class Cotswold town. In escape of unhappy home and school lives, they play in the old folly, roam the fields, and help Farmer Rodge with his cow herd. An outbreak of Foot-And-Mouth Disease puts their whole world at risk.

Written and directed by Emily Jenkins, Bobby and Amy is a transporting, beautiful, heartfelt reminder that strength and resilience can be found in unexpected places. Kimberly Jarvis (Amy) and Will Howard (Bobby) are outstanding. In addition to their portrayal of the titular characters, they shift in and out of a dozen others, bringing an entire town to life. You walk away having seen a largely populated story, full of nuanced personalities. Jarvis and Howard have made it easy, with just a bit of distance, to forget the show was a two-hander.

Jenkins effortlessly sweeps the audience out of Edinburgh to a rural Cotswold village. I can’t say I’ve experienced a richer, more vibrant setting, especially in a show with no set. Bobby and Amy is a black box production that uses no props or set design. Jenkins’ script does the heavy lifting in bringing us a tactile, almost cinematic experience of the world of the story. Golden fields, greasy fish and chips, the old folly, the live birth of a calf. Looking back, it’s almost a surprise remembering we didn’t actually see any of it.

Jenkins brings the late nineties back in full force as well: Tamagochi, choker necklaces, hand gesture rhymes (“loser, loser, double loser, whatever, as if, get the picture…”), and of course Foot-and-Mouth. The disease is never named in the play, which emphasises its senselessness and injustice. When the farms that employ nearly the entire town are shut down, when entire herds of cows (who have names) are shot and burned, there’s no explanation given; no reason said. The omission of the disease’s name also works to place us more firmly in the children’s world: their inability to fully comprehend the situation, and their powerlessness in the face of it. One day the fields are an idyllic playground; the next they’re on fire. Why? We don’t know (diseases just happen). It’s not fair.

Jenkins gives a poignant, perceptive, and loving depiction of a town hit by tragedy that’s forced to pull together, let go of the past, and change. This is a story of great depth and big heart. It will transport you to a nostalgic, vivid world you’ll want to linger in for a while longer.


Reviewed by Addison Waite


Bobby and Amy

Pleasance Courtyard until 26th August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019



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