Having grown up in the countryside, I find myself wary of people writing about it.
Too often it’s idyllically rose tinted with rolling hills, or as in Lincolnshire where I grew up, rolling flat lands blotted by the leaning towers of chemical factories in the Humber bank refineries.
In Milked the pen of playwright Simon Longman leads you to a village in the English countryside, and introduces you to two directionless young men, and a rather large cow.
As it was being performed at one of my very favourite London spaces, the unbelievably cool Soho Theatre, I knew that it would be of a quality. A new play, young fresh actors and talk of a cow – on the top floor of a theatre – what could go wrong?
It began slow, but the writing and quick witted performances from the two lead actors, Oliver Mott and Adam Redmore, dragged it through the initial first scene nerves of an early night in a run.
It was billed as a story of unemployment and listlessness, and it took me back years. Children and young people in villages are predominately governed by three different types of parents: those who don’t care and try to push you in a direction you don’t want; those who care too much and try to push you in a direction you don’t want; and loving parents who support your dreams. I am lucky to have the third kind, but too many have you much forced on them by bad circumstance, or a desire for vicarious living.
Snowy has parents who don’t care, Paul’s care too much, and the limit of their freedom is apparent from the off. This is why they both find themselves emotionally attached to a cow.
Mott depicts Snowy, a tall hulk of a man with a winning smile who is absolutely believable as a young man bullied by his father. There became a maturity in his performance as the play went on, and as he exposed and then grappled with the realisation that he’d never be truly in control of his life.
Redmore plays the neurotic Paul, and he does it with a superb grace. Erratic and seemingly weak, this herd follower graphically shows his internal fight to be the person he’s expected to be.
As Snowy and Paul drift between frantic energy, and ravishing depression, you are carried with them. Sandy the cow is, quite frankly, an invisible tour de force of animal acting – if she isn’t mentioned when awards season comes, then I’ll eat my big lump of meadow grass.
Representations of the countryside, and the people of the countryside, that aren’t pure parody are like gold dust. If it’s not a mutton chop gamekeeper, then it’s a fat, tory, bouncing Lord looking like a git dressed in red chasing a fox. To show, with a roaring honesty, young people and their battle to forge themselves as they approach independence is brave, and Milked challenges the audience to remember and reminisce their own journey.
Writer Simon Longman said of his play: “Milked is a play about growing up in the countryside. About not knowing what you’re meant to do despite doing everything that you’ve been told to do. That moment where a young person’s life seems to become directionless, the moment when everything becomes very real, very quickly. It’s a play that I wanted to write in response to unemployment and the pressure young people face to do something about it.”
Pentabus, the production company who have put on Milked, have a remit to create theatre that represents the contemporary countryside. This stirring and dark play is what theatre is about. Representation, adventure and a piece of art created and performed with a simplicity that keeps you talking about it for hours afterwards. Sadly it’s not on in London for long, but it’s touring around the UK.
Photo credit Richard Stanton.