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Edinburgh Fringe 2013

The Cow Play

Smoke and Oakum Theatre

Genre: Absurd Theatre

Venue: C Nova 


Low Down

"Owen can’t seem to write, Thom’s exhaust pipe is ruined, and Holly is turning into a cow." A published play by Ed Harris rooted in theatre of the absurd.


This is a play about an unhinged transformation – uninvited and disturbing for the host human. The premise of this well written play by Ed Harris sits in the territory of Heart of a Dog with a dash of Metamorphosis. A young woman is turning into a cow. Disturbing, darkly humorous, occasionally horrific, Smoke and Oakum have brought something quirky and innovative to the Fringe
Ross Drury directs this young cast with tight tight dialogue, mostly well paced but occasionally the pace lags in a way that doesn’t serve the piece.I know venues can be hot but the fans need to be off during this show – they didn’t help the needed silence of this play.
But the central idea is intriguing and strong. Performances are convincing and the actors are on top of the materiel with a fluid, naturalistic style.
There are neat parallels in the subject matter here. Here is a human soul helplessly encountering the beast within. This could be the heavy weight of depression, it could be the monster of cancer, it could be overcoming our lower nature. The choice of ‘bovine’ is wonderfully grotesque, with a dark comedy quality. The descent and decline of Holly is portrayed as an inevitable tragedy, freakish and clearly linked to the state, not only of her soul, but also her context. This is what gives the writing depth and texture, realised so well through the direction and performances. There’s plenty of pained facial theatre, intense eye contact, and moments of physical horror.
Holly and Owen and are lost in vegetarian wretched contentment. And Holly is changing in ways disturbing. How will her lapsed pianist lover deal with this ?
It’s good to see writing like this on the fringe and I’m glad to see it in thr safe and capable hands of this company. 
In places this play feels a bit muted where there ought to be sharper, more intense drama.It might partly be a function of the venue which felt very stuffy.
There are some brilliant moments here but, as a whole, this production hasn’t yet found that perfect synergy between scripted dialogue, theme, physical and verbal performance. It’s very much worth seeing for its intriguing subject matter and also for a play that packs a lot of further potential. There’s sharper comedy hidden here and there’s a real need to look at the balance between narrative and relationship development. 
I enjoyed the Cow Play. I found it interesting and very watchable. But I want to see it go further. The company needs to decide more firmly and consistently whether the central grotesque happening is supposed to be dark, symbolic and discomforting comedy, or whether it is absurd but serious drama. It currently dances between the two. There’s a slightly clunky tension between the raw naturalism and the occasional burst of melodrama. It needs finessing and I think a long run – which the play certainly deserves – will iron this out further. As it stands, it is still a very strong production.
The play is full of many fine virtues – some excellent set piece moments, some strong and intense knockabout dialogue, plenty of wit and depth and a director who knows how to tap into the skill of three talented actors. The actors, all three, are convincing and the play often achieves a powerful intensity and believable shock factor.
The writing is remarkable in its ability to build up both "normal" tension and also weave in the horror of a woman changing horrifically and helplessly. We think we can "fix" ourselves, yet there are some things we can never physically fix without a deep dive within.
There are some shattering moments in the Cow Play and it truly is something different for the Fringe and I’m happy to recommend it.


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