The woman who invented the most efficient method of slaughtering an animal was a vegetarian, we are told as the lights come up on
Charolais is infused with a dark humour akin to Martin McDonagh’s blackest wit.
It’s the story of two females, both inseminated by oafish farmhand Jimmy: one is his girlfriend, the feisty and thoroughly modern Siobhan; the other is a cow, the farm’s beloved prized heifer – the eponymous Charolais. That Jimmy’s artificial impregnation of the cow was not – strictly speaking – sexual matters little to Siobhan, who feels a fiery jealousy in her heart for the cow to “whom” Jimmy seems to show all his adoration. The Charolais represents prosperity and stability to Jimmy and his farm-obsessed mother Breda, whereas Siobhan feels like an inconvenience and intruder. It doesn’t help that Breda, woefully old-fashioned and malleable to public opinion, must be kept in the dark about Siobhan’s pregnancy, whilst simultaneously devotedly tending to the cow’s every maternal need.
Siobhan, who is bullish in her own right, paints the Charolais as the antagonist of the story – the grazing adversary competing for the attention of her man – but the cow is charmingly likeable and misunderstood: more of a Miltonic Satan than straightforward “villain”. Stapleton of course plays the Charolais as well. She is a broody (well, self-confessed “horny”) character with a thick French accent. To say that Stapleton does an excellent impression of a cow is no insult. Her Charolais is a languorous and voluptuous femme fatale with sex-fueled dreams of a strong bull to have as her own. When she is robbed of natural intercourse and mechanically inseminated by Jimmy, her outrage and heartache are tangibly tragic. Stapleton rears the Charolais into just as much of an empathetic stage presence as Siobhan, and that is no easy feat.
There is a dignity to Charolais’ stagecraft simplicity: there is little lighting, minimal set, and only a few audio cues (which at times play a little bit half-hearted), but a fuller and more exciting stage would not be unwelcome. Fortunately, the strength of the script and acting is more than capable of tarmacking over this minor hiccup. Charolais is infused with a dark humour akin to Martin McDonagh’s blackest wit. Stapleton’s writing is not only wickedly engaging, but her omnipresent performance is also entirely captivating – the visual palpability created through the music of her words is astounding. This is sensational storytelling.