Theatre reviews: A battle against the odds and an afterlife encounter

Muddy Cows

A scene from Muddy Cows
A scene from Muddy Cows

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Nick Ahad

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Rugby. John Godber. A team in a battle against the odds.

Haven’t we been here before?

Well, yes and no. Muddy Cows features two significant changes from Godber’s previous, highly successful rugby comedy Up n Under: gender and code. This is rugby union and the team’s female.

It would feel an incredibly cynical exercise were it not for the fact that the theatre asked Godber if it could stage an all female version of Up n Under and Godber offered instead to write a new one. Why cynical? It feels, certainly in the first half, something of a Godber by numbers. The flat first half is all a set up, it transpires, to the much more interesting and lively second act.

The Muddy Cows are struggling. Bound together by the sheer bloody will of team coach Maggie Deakin, a former international with a big heart and a bad knee, they come to a turning point – they either pack it in or give it a big push in a Sevens’ competition.

The performers are all having fun with the piece, from posh surgeon Jess Baxter played by Abi Titmuss to party girl solicitor Amber Matthew, played by Hayley Tamaddon, but they lack something vital in a play like this – the sense that they are a team. It feels much more like a collection of individuals.

In the second act, we see the team slowly progressing through a competition by watching them in the changing rooms between games.

This is when they look like a team and crucially, when we start to care.

To Aug 31.

Churchill

Carriageworks, Leeds

Yvette Huddleston

Debut playwright Tony Tortora’s new play Churchill has an interesting premise which places sworn enemies Churchill and Hitler in a holding area in the afterlife where they are thrust together in a space neither can leave. Forced to at least make some attempt to get along, a conversation begins during which each tries to persuade the other of their point of view.

This is a polished production and the central performances from Jeremy Dobbs as Churchill and Michael Forrest as Hitler are both, at moments, electrifying. Dobbs in particular seems to capture the essence of the great wartime leader without ever tipping into impersonation or parody. Lighter moments of humour are provided mostly by the two ‘servants’ – the afterlife equivalent of a butler and a tea lady – played by Stephen Bellamy and Carolyn Eden who both bring a sense of fun to their stereotypical characters. Tortora’s script contains some interesting nuggets of historical detail and is obviously well researched. It is engaging and intelligent, and sprightly pacing moves the action along nicely. However, there is a sense of a missed opportunity – it feels ‘safe’. These two historical figures are clearly defined in the collective conscience as polar opposites, black and white; it might have been interesting to explore the grey areas. Apart from pointing out the similarities between the two men – both art lovers, strong personalities and leaders revered by their people – there is little attempt to delve deeper into the psyche of each.

To July 20.