Cow

One Devonshire lass and her cow in search for a tractor may not sound the most captivating plot premise you’ve ever heard, but Cow delivers brilliantly on it. Directed by Lucy Wray, this one-woman show focuses around Bethan, a quirky and off-beat farmers daughter played by Jessica Barker-Wren (who also wrote the play). With her dead mother, ill father and absent siblings leaving her entirely self-sufficient, Bethan’s pet cow Friendly is the only company she has on this difficult task. Her loneliness is made all the more tragic once the reasons why she needs a tractor finally come to light.

A beautifully balanced exploration of grief and loneliness.

Though the Edinburgh Fringe has barely begun, the theme of urban isolation in city life already feels tired in one-person shows. Therefore, Barker-Wren’s transference of this valuable theme to a countryside setting bursts with fresh originality. Despite the sadness that permeates powerfully through the performance, there is plenty of humour to keep an audience never sure what to expect next from Bethan. Barker-Wren cleverly allows struggle and vulnerability to constantly under-cut the character’s bravado, creating a heart-breaking persona that we long to comfort. Since the skilful writing builds such an incredible character, the rushed performance of the piece is incredibly disappointing. Although Barker-Wren brings Bethan to life with animation and intensity, she charges through the lines at such pace that the audience sometimes feels bombarded by the character rather than invited into her troubled world.

Some music choices of the play are problematic, including an ill-fitting dance scene with a chainsaw. However, folk song is an unexpected stand-out feature of the performance. The haunting melodies prove extremely effective at enhancing the play’s most poignant moments. As a result, they evoke a powerful reminder of the supposed rural ‘community’ which has neglected Bethany in her hour of great need.

Cow offers a beautifully balanced exploration of grief and loneliness. In spite of the issues mentioned above, its action builds to a devastating crescendo that cannot fail to shock. The emotions are raw, the humour is observant and the writing is brilliant. It feels like an undiscovered gem of the Fringe.

Reviews by Carla van der Sluijs

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

‘Hi, why've I got a cow? Why've you got a.../What is that?/A snake dog? This is just a casual rural situation: I'm a farmer's daughter, looking to acquire a tractor... I think I've got a handle on things.’ A tragicomedy with music, set in rural Devon about a girl, a cow and the ways we ask for help. From Jessica Barker-Wren and Lucy Wray, director of They Built It. No One Came – 'Intriguing and psychologically complex' (Stage). Goodstock – 'Honest, funny and true' (Guardian). Supported by The Bike Shed, Exeter.

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