Unimpressive from the start, The Cow Play leaves the audience confused and unfulfilled.
It all begins with some serious over-acting, the actor’s stomp their way across the stage for no deliberate purpose. Holly Campbell and Zach Wilson, playing the two main characters, then engage in a dialogue which involves them both speaking to the whole of the stage as opposed to each other which leaves the audience outside the performance as spectators, as opposed to being able to enter into the story.
The intention of the performance is clear despite being rather crude and under-constructed, as Holly becomes unwell, presumably depressed - she also begins to turn into a cow. This is fuelled by the first absurd scenario during which Holly tells her boyfriend Owen that she found a ‘thing’ in the sink, the thing being a paper-maiched, blood covered calf.
Holly’s maternal attachment to the calf coincides with her growing a tail, giving up promising career opportunities, growing ears, eating grass and finding herself becoming more and more emotionally removed from Owen. The line ‘We’re all depressed…this is England’ summarises the plays attempt to address depression, relationships and achievement by 20-something’s who feel like they should have already conquered all three. But the characters mood changes are too erratic to support the difficult issues that the play is trying to grapple with. With more build up and maybe more background before the introduction of Holly’s transition into her cattle-like state, the metamorphosis wouldn’t seem so blunt and baseless but would make sense as the culmination of everyday pressures and years’ worth of unrealistic societal expectations.
The laughs are few and far between although one play fight scene between Owen and his best friend Tom does provide a brief moment of comic relief. It’s difficult to work out whether it’s meant to be about Owen, Tom or Holly and it doesn’t quite work as a play about them as a trio. By the final scene all three of them still feel like peripheral figures and you’re waiting for the main characters to step in. The lines between the cow metaphor and Holly’s actual illness aren’t blurred enough to give the play the poignancy it needs and all the audience is left with is tripe.