“Where l’amour freely transforms as l’amoooour’”
To invoke an admiring Scot, even though this is an all-Irish production, Charolais is ‘warm-reeking, rich!’ Approach the slurry pit with care and whatever happens do not call your good woman a ‘Silly moo’ or a ‘Daft cow’(and Burns didn’t either). She may not catch the affection in your voice, especially if she’s a pretty heifer.
Siobhan has had enough of coming second to boyfriend Jimmy’s gorgeous cow. Siobhan is heavily pregnant with their child but Jimmy seems only to have eyes for Charolais, whose bright yellow ID tags appear like ‘cheap gold rings’. Such jealousy might be at the extreme end of an hormonal rush but Siobhan is thinking murder. But how? A wild barley feed can result in alcohol poisoning or you could slice the cow in the squeeze chute. As if Charolais’s charms are not enough to contend with, there’s Jimmy’s seriously protective mother, Breda (72), who regards Siobhan as a shameless hussy. Maybe Breda could meet a power surge on the electric fencing?
So it’s a down-on-the-farm love and sex story with writer/actor Noni Stapleton as Siobhan and as Charolais. This is where l’amour freely transforms as l’amoooour’ and back again with a delightful swish of blond hair and a lolling lascivious tongue. The fact that prized Charolais cattle are creamy white and have well developed udders is to invite a cowpat but I hope not. Anyhow, performer and Bigger Picture Projects go further and provide this cow with a husky singing voice. Think Piaf in the byre rather than this reviewer in the mire, please.
It is a sweet treat of a script too, both affectionate and grounded, and steamy with activity in the cowshed and with Siobhan trying to get Jimmy away from his mother. She succeeds, dramatically – even tragically – but not in the way(s) she imagined. And for a townie there’s the added bonus of hearing of calving jacks and herd books and – from Charolais’s point of view – of the ‘indignity of the AI man with the syringe’.
Stapleton’s performance is really good. Yes, in many respects it is a humorous monologue – for woman and cow – but it is also wholesome and generous. For much of the time she’s Siobhan, seven months pregnant and in a bloody apron, but she’s proud and ardent too. I was especially taken by the way Stapleton makes her space her own and looks astonishingly ‘at home’ – in wellies – just a few feet from her audience.
I have seen a few too many plays recently that put the urban precinct, IT, and the disembodied centre stage. ‘Charolais’ achieves the primary opposite. It’s all heart.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 28 August)
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