NODA review of Silly Cow

by Richard Fitt

Poster (1)Being the gold standard for amateur theatre in the region, it is hard to fault Sharnbrook Mill Theatre productions, and taking on Ben Elton’s ‘Silly Cow’ on a hot steamy night in September was no exception.

I had forgotten what an over-the-top silly script this is, typical Elton: satirical, fast paced, very wordy, pulling no punches adult humour, completely manic and above all (provided you appreciate Elton’s brand of humour) very, very funny! A complete shredding of the hedonism of the late 20th century. I just wish he’d update it slightly. Jokes about the ‘Duchess of Pork’ for example would only be understood by those of us over a certain age. Other than that tabloid journalism is still the same today as it was then.

The story is a revenge comedy about a tabloid journalist, Doris Wallace, who has made her name, reputation and fortune by destroying the reputations of others and as her career is set to rise to even greater heights with her own TV show, she little realises that the people with whom she has surrounded herself are hell bent on revenge and none of their personae can be taken at face value. And then there is the little matter of being sued for libel by an actress whose career she had destroyed. Just when she is gloating over her victory things start to go horribly wrong…

Sam McLughlin as Doris was absolutely perfect for this part, played at maximum octane level she made you breathless just watching her. The energy level and delivery of her lines with razor sharp precision just carried this play to a different level. The expression on her face and her reaction to the moment for example when she discovered that her stash of ‘coke’ had been posted to HMRC with her tax return was absolutely priceless and comedic timing at its very best.

Έireann Mason as her PA, Peggy played downtrodden and put upon to perfection, a fine foil for McLughlin’s Doris. Thus showing not only ‘Peggy’s’ acting skill when she revealed who she really was but, if you didn’t already know the plot a really classy character change as she too turned out to be one of Doris’s victims. Or as my totally taken by surprise partner succinctly put it, ‘Now that is real acting!’

David Mander as Sydney, was the master of both accents and of the cutting tongue delivery of Elton’s lines. The speeches between Sidney and Doris were a really well-honed verbal duel delivered at breakneck speed and terrific entertainment to watch.

Eduardo in the hands of Ian Yarwood was Mr Cool personified as the Doris’s ‘toyboy’ providing one of the great gags as he too reveals himself to be not only another of Doris’s victims but also gay. Very, very well done and brilliantly funny.

John Stevens as Douglas, Doris’s accountant was no slouch to the action either, playing the quieter character of a ‘boring’ number cruncher, the contrast when he came back to life after playing the corpse was another great highlight to the plot. Perhaps my only complaint being when playing the corpse and being on his back you could clearly make out he was still breathing. But then again, since he did come back to life, does it really matter? And yes, I did immediately spot the mix-up of envelopes, which although subtly done was still well conveyed to the audience.

Lester Cooke notes in the programme that the Mill Theatre took a risk and let him direct this play as his directorial debut. Well some debut sir. I think they might actually ask him again.

The one thing I did find puzzling me was the set design by the director Lester Cooke. Maybe I missed something here, but it seemed to me to be incongruous to the character of a rich and successful journalist, A minimalist set with a brick wall backdrop with a single sofa, a very scruffy small desk, a rather sad drinks table and another small cabinet didn’t quite do it for me. I think Doris might have been a bit more up market..?

Lightning and sound by Alex McKenzie, James Doughty, Michelle Reading, Ollie Coleman and Jason Gardner were both slick and on cue, in fact I didn’t really think about them during the performance, which always means they were absolutely spot on, as one really only ever notices mistakes. I did however particularly love the volume at which the music was played, it added to the humour very well indeed.

Costumes and wigs (particularly Peggy’s original wig, which fooled me completely) by Virginia Pope and Susan Moore were well thought out and as far as I can remember pretty much the fashion of the late 80’s.

I must also congratulate (I assume) David Husband and Michael Horne, for the cartoon style pictures/photographs in the programme, very clever and a nice touch.

So once again thank you producer Annette Coddington and her team for an excellent evening’s entertainment and also to the new FOH Manager, Dave Oliver for the usual welcome and hospitality, and good Luck to Ian Lawson with his new front of house career at Milton Keynes.