Cash Cow (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs)

In the tiny theatre downstairs at Hampstead, it’s new balls please as Cash Cow tells the story of an ordinary couple who realise their young daughter (tellingly, never named) is a tennis prodigy.

Phoebe Pryce as Nina
Phoebe Pryce as Nina

Jonathan Livingstone and Phoebe Pryce navigate a script that utilises a short scene structure to move backward and forward in time: their child has cut them off for years and we slowly see how their pushing for her success, while disregarding her mental state and own wishes, engineered the break between them.

On a stage which resembles a tennis court in size and shape, with the use of a light strip around the performance area and piano music and light changes to separate the scenes, both Livingstone and Pryce do well with tonal changes that require them to move through a range of emotions, as well as playing their shadowed, monosyllabic daughter – her only words are yes, no and OK.

Phoebe Pryce as Nina
Phoebe Pryce as Nina

Cash Cow is a deftly performed piece which benefits greatly from the intimacy of a small space, and a running time of just 90 minutes. We feel we know this couple but slowly they reveal themselves as they really are, however much they protest that “it isn’t for the money, we just want her”.

In this Wimbledon fortnight, with teenagers playing at the top professional level, you do wonder about the lives of the children who put parties, boyfriends and even menstrual cycles on hold for the good of the game and their careers.

Jonathan Livingstone as Ade and Phoebe Pryce as Nina
Jonathan Livingstone as Ade and Phoebe Pryce as Nina

Oli Forsyth has written a literate play here which throws up all kinds of questions about the rights of minors and fame by proxy. Katie Pesskin directs, Anna Reid designed the set and Ed Lewis the evocative sound design.

Cash Cow continues until the 20 July at Hampstead Downstairs.

Photo credits Robert Day.


Mr Foote’s Other Leg (Hampstead Theatre)


A dark dramedy at the Hampstead Theatre passed the time this afternoon, in the story of Samuel Foote, low comedian, crossdresser and media-bait.  Played with flair and fuss by Simon Russell Beale, Foote could slump into caricature but does not, mainly due to the skill of both actor and writer in making the character a rounded one, in some ways a fool but in other a figure of sympathy.

We first find Foote in a backstage elocution class with the other major characters of the play – Midlands-accented David Garrick (Joseph Millson, who catches at chances of comedy and moments of pathos with ease), Irish Peg Woffington (Dervla Kirwan, vulgar and finally pathetic), Scots Jock Hunter (Forbes Masson, who perhaps overdoes the accent), and mute Miss Chudleigh (Sophie Bleasdale).

Their coach, Charles Macklin (Colin Stinton, who reappears later as Benjamin Franklin and is good in both roles) quickly tarnishes his character by accidentally killing a fellow actor, and Foote and friends start their own company, with Jenny Galloway as their jaded tour manager and Micah Balfour as proud free-man and former Jamaican slave Frank Barber.  Foote plays grotesque distaff roles while Peg plays young britches parts or gartered tarts (and off-stage works her way through the beds of various luminaries including the eldest son of the King, Prince George, who is played by the play’s writer, Ian Kelly).

This is a strange play, one which has ribald belly laughs alongside moments of desperation, and one gut-churning scene which deals with the aftermath of a horse-riding accident which leads to Foote having his leg amputated in graphic (verbal) detail on stage.  The tensions between the comedy and the tragedy may not always work, although in pockets and scenes the mix is effective (for example, a piece of tenderness between Garrick and Peg).

Directed by Richard Eyre, it is not a typical piece you would expect from him, and some may balk at the large use of profanity throughout the play, but with a little tightening of scenes and a slightly less sluggish pace this could be an extremely successful production.

Stevie (Hampstead Theatre)

To Swiss Cottage this weekend for a revival of the 1977 play by Hugh Whitemore, about the writer Stevie Smith, which has now landed in London via the Chichester Festival.  It was filmed in 1978 with the original ‘Stevie’, Glenda Jackson.

This time around the role of the spinster poet who lives with her maiden aunt in Palmers Green is played by Zoë Wanamaker, with Lynda Baron as the ‘Lion Aunt’ and Chris Larkin as ‘The Man’.


The set design by Simon Higlett is a perfect balance to Christopher Morahan’s direction, and the intimacy of the piece sits well in the Hampstead Theatre’s space – where the Smith living room is invaded by trees from the garden and is filled with photographs, books, and religious icons.  This ‘house of female habitation’, to quote one of Smith’s plays, is where both Stevie and her aunt pass the years, and during that time we see hints of both past and present through the last few years of her life.

Those of you who remember the film might notice one slight change it made from the stage production – it did not have the same actor playing both ‘The Man’ and Smith’s old beau, Freddy.  Here, Chris Larkin (who is so like his mother, Maggie Smith, especially when he plays the slightly camp friend who is used as a pseudo-taxi service by Stevie) plays both roles, and observes many scenes in quiet contemplation.

I liked Lynda Baron’s aunt a lot – she is both funny and vulnerable, and it is a great portrayal of a strong women growing frail and forgetful with age.  Wanamaker’s Stevie is also funny and fragile, although throughout I was reminded how good Glenda Jackson had been in the role, and how she could bring a sense of dangerous imbalance to the role which I didn’t see in Wanamaker – I also felt the play took a little time to warm up and get going, although the second half, on balance, is much better,

The strength of this play, though, is not in Whitemore’s ‘creation’ of Smith as a person, but in the reciting of her poems, which can stand on their own without embellishment.  Smith was a rhymer, and on the face of it a writer of fey simplicity, but that would be a great disservice to her.  In pieces like ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’, ‘The Jungle Husband’, ‘Infelice’ (not included here) and others there is a lot more going on that would originally appear.