The Cow Play

The Cow Play is a trivial comedy about serious things. Like the award-winning American playwright Sarah Ruhl, writer Ed Harris understands that sometimes absurdity is the only approach worth taking. Some topics, like depression and artistic ambition, are too difficult to approach with a perfectly straight face. To make ‘em think, make ‘em laugh, (Donald O’Connor forgot that first part). If you enjoy Ruhl’s plays, particularly The Melancholy Play, in which a woman turns into a salted almond and has to attend a support group, you will love this piece of clever, meaningful absurdism.

Everyone has problems: Owen is a failed pianist and composer. His best friend Thom has a car with a broken exhaust pipe. Owen’s girlfriend Holly is turning into a cow. The Cow Play takes an absurd situation and treats it with offhand, disinterested realism. Harris’s decision to use Holly’s bovine transformation as a metaphor for mental illness is brilliant and moving. For anyone who has ever suffered from depression or loved a clinically depressed person, Holly’s description of her mental state will feel particularly apt. She says that her mind is slowing down and fogging up. The physical pain of transforming into a ruminant is a very visceral way of representing intense mental pain. Holly knows something is wrong but she refuses to seek help, and even seems perversely fascinated by her condition. Owen loves Holly but does nothing to help her - he instead gamely eats the plates of lettuce she prepare for dinner. Owen both enables Holly and sacrifices himself for her, much to his friend’s frustration. Thom, powerfully played by Oliver Forsyth, is a selfish no-talent who may or may not be in love with Owen.

The naturalism needed to make these characters and this play work is challenging, but all of the actors cope fairly well, though there were a few moments when things slipped away from them. It’s difficult to keep things natural when arguing over whether or not to cut off someone’s tail. They work well in a cramped space, though at the beginning exits and entrances did feel a bit muddled together. It wasn’t clear at first just what one of the repeated sound effects was meant to be--horse hooves? rain?--until I realized it was applause, which felt very appropriate given Owen’s struggle with fame and success.

The Cow Play is absurdist humour at its best. There are some very funny lines, (“How did she die!?!?” “I don’t know, I wasn’t really listening”), but more importantly there is a point. The Cow Play has a whole lot more to say than 'moo'. However, if I say it’s udderly wonderful and something to ruminate over you have my permission to take me out behind the barn and shoot me.

Reviews by Lauren Moreau

Summerhall

Near Gone

★★★★★
Dance Base

An Invitation...

★★★
Greenside @ Nicolson Square

She Loves Me

★★★★
Pommery Champagne Cafe Bar

Champagne Tutored Tasting

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

The Blurb

Owen and Holly's relationship is under strain. There are many reasons for this, Holly is not feeling great, Owen can't write, his friend Thom disapproves, but most of all, Holly is turning into a cow.

Most Popular See More

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mary Poppins

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Grease the Musical

From £20.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Mousetrap

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets