The greater mouse-eared bat belongs to the family Vespertilionidae of the genus Myotis. It’s known to chiropterologists as Myotis Myotis. And yes, as we are also told in Barry McStay’s moving two-hander
A touching air of woe imbued with the hope of joy
Although common in mainland Europe, this drama is woven around the sole surviving specimen in the UK, which hibernates, mateless, in an abandoned tunnel near Chichester. Perhaps surprisingly, that part of the tale is not fiction: (check it out on the BBC and elsewhere); what follows, is. Emerging from the plight of said bat, McStay has crafted an ingenious and deeply moving storyline of two people who, like the bat, have family somewhere, from whom they have become detached.
The bat is watched-over by the socially uncomfortable Alan (Benedict Salter) whose domestic situation is not dissimilar. Also alone in life, Alan’s house is about to be compulsorily purchased to make way for a bypass that is likely to have disastrous consequences for the local wildlife. But tonight in the tunnel he has company. His wandering torchlight awakens the homeless Josh (Joshua Oakes-Rogers) who, like the bat, has found refuge there. They have a somewhat dysfunctional conversation, in which their names are revealed, and Josh leaves. Curious about the man he has encountered, and probably with a clear motive in mind, he does a Google search. This brings up a lecture about bats to be given by Alan which Josh attends and after which he reintroduces himself, invites himself to go for a drink at Alan’s expense and ends up in what he describes as Alan’s ‘Hogwarts or Narnia’ house. Perhaps predictably, he stays. They discover more about each other: their histories, emotional ups and downs and ultimately their deceits. Their lives not being straightforward makes this interesting, but it’s the two performances that make it captivating.
That both actors are so visibly at ease with each other should probably come as no surprise: they performed this play together in a sell-out production at the VAULT Festival 2019, where it received considerable acclaim and won the Play of the Week Award. The rapid-fire interaction that occurs on several occasions reveals their intimacy with the script and clear sense of each other's timing. They also know the power of the pause and strength of a look.
Salter’s home, his clothes and his geeky interests are brought to life in a performance imbued with mannerisms, hesitancy, naivety and a disconnect from the modern world that create a harmonious and credible unity. Oakes-Rogers shatters that isolated existence, exuding confidence in a disarming blend of vulnerability, seductiveness and slightly camp chavviness that simmers in subtle moderation, surfacing at times with greater strength, as required, to fit the moment. Together they generate a touching air of woe imbued with the hope of joy.
The chemistry of their partnership witnesses a triumph of casting and is a huge tribute to what director Lucy Jane Atkinson has achieved in this production. The performance was filmed by Shoot Media at The King’s Head Theatre, Islington and forms parts of their digital season, Plays On Film, available to watch on its new on-demand platform, KHTV. For the technical team it meant that what they created had to work not just in the theatre but on film too, and for that, set designer Verity Johnson, lighting designer Zia Bergin-Holly and sound designer Annie May Fletcher deserve considerable credit. Producer Jess Duxbury can be very proud of what this team has achieved.