Cow is a fascinating piece of theatre. Potent in the themes it focuses on, intimate in its focus, it is equal parts funny and heartbreaking. Telling the story of Bethan who has returned home to help her father run the family farm, the audience joins her on stage, with her favourite cow, Friendly, by her side (a lovely life-sized model on wheels) as she searches for a tractor to borrow. Over the course of an hour the show introduces us to Bethan's life, illuminating the loss of her mother, as well as a generational separation between Bethan and her siblings, who have all sought lives outside of
Bethan is a warm, charismatic presence, expertly performed by writer Jessica Barker-Wren, who proves a talent to watch, and is decked out in boots, a farmer's jacket and a "fabulous catsuit". She dominates the stage, jumping between playing Bethan and the characters she comes into contact with. This is her story, meaning we never move away from her viewpoint. While the narrative is a relatively slim one, it is in the telling of it that Cow becomes such an interesting piece of new writing. It speaks to a generation that have been offered such wonderful opportunities outside their family home, but are often drawn back by the responsibilities that are forced upon them by their parents' generation.
As grounded as Cow is, it is also willing to indulge in flights of fantasy. An early highlight is Bethan chopping wood with a chainsaw to David Bowie's 'Velvet Goldmine' (fabulous song pick), with the re-enactment escalating to farcical levels. The show is often funny, generating warm laughter from the audience (who were the first to watch Cow in its completed form). Particularly amusing are the asides to the audience, establishing Bethan's opinion of the situation. But there is also a deep well of tragedy bubbling away in Cow, unafraid to highlight the cracks in society that its story draws out. As great a performer as Jessica is, there is a true strength to her writing, and she establishes herself with Cow as a powerful new voice in the
Cow leaves a larger impact than one would expect. It feels very much of its moment, reflecting the decline of farming since the mid-90s (ravaged by foot-and-mouth and buried by globalisation), the struggles of millennials in an uncaring world, and the prospect of caring for an aging population. It is a fiercely enjoyable piece of writing, and Jessica Barker-Wren's performance is exemplary. Once again Offbeat have introduced a fantastic piece of new writing to the theatre scene.