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The Cow Play
Published on Friday, 31 May 2013

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3 stars

The Warren (venue website)
25-27 May, 5:45pm-7:05pm
Reviewed by Darren Taffinder

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

The Cow Play is not the best title, but don't let that put you off. It's quite a thought-provoking show on the effects of depression, with a lot of promise. As it stands, it's not clicking together as well as it could; but it's almost there. You can see the potential and this is a young company to watch.

It's about a young woman, Holly, who finds a baby calf in her kitchen sink.  As she takes care of it she slowly turns into a cow herself, complete with tail. This transformation affects her relationship with her boyfriend, Owen, a gifted piano player who has decided to turn his back on his musical career and works in a call centre.

Turning into a cow is not the most subtle metaphor for mental illness, but it's actually done really well. All three of the cast members perform well, especially Holly Campbell and Oliver Forsyth, who plays Owen's best friend, Thom. Writer Ed Harris captures an authentic voice for the scenes between Holly and Owen, which really grounds the play, making it feel real. Campbell and Zach Wilson's Owen have a great chemistry too; you could truly believe in the friendship between him and Thom, who's the sort of guy that could talk himself into a VIP section of a night club and spend the evening sipping cocktails with the cast of Made in Chelsea.

Some of the motifs work well.  I especially liked how the playful opening lines were repeated throughout, giving them a them a deeper edge of tragedy each time. But there is a little too much going on. It’s cow overkill. For me, it was confusing that Holly is both looking after a baby calf and turning into a cow; for me it needed to be one or the other. Plus, too much of the transformation is unseen – a lot of time is spent discussing the tail, so I think we need to see it. Maybe there's a bit of fear to appear ridiculous, but this is a play that would benefit from a bit more show and a little less tell.

Owen's piano-man subplot is also not as effective as it could be. At the start of the play he's already given up on his musical dream – a plot development which feels premature, given that it’s a major source of conflict between him and Thom. The true tragedy of Owen's story is that no matter how much you might love someone, or how hard you might try, it's not always enough. At the heart of it is the break-up of his friendship with Thom, and towards the end I felt this was short on emotional impact, especially when Thom returns a watch he's borrowed earlier.

But there's a lot in this play that really works, and the performances are great. With a little bit of work, it really might be something.

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