Cow: A Week in the Unit

Cow is set in Devon, where I grew up, and I knew that I wanted the story to have a connection with the area, and to be performed to Devon audiences. I got in touch with The Bike Shed and Director, Lucy Wray, and I went down to meet The Bike Shed Producer, Emily Souter-Johnson, to talk about the project. Emily was really positive and kindly offered us a week’s development time at ‘The Unit’ – The Bike Shed’s collaboration with Exeter County Council, which allows artists to use an empty shop unit in the city. For one week in March we were based in a space on South Street, which I remembered as the old fabric shop I used to visit with my mum.

As an artist, it is teeth-chatteringly exciting to be handed this resource, to work on Cow for a whole week: scrutinising and playing with the script alongside Lucy as director and dramaturg. Time and space are essential parts to making a play. We wouldn’t have had either without the support of The Bike Shed, the rest is a matter of imagination.

Friendly, a Devon Red cow, is a vital character in the play and whilst we wait for our designer to finish the real model we improvised with what we had available – a chair and a ball with a face on it, not unlike ‘Wilson’ in Tom Hank’s film Castaway… the walls fill up with spider diagrams and cut up script spliced about with masking tape and scissors themes highlighted in different colours.

The bustling city centre and brilliant programme of work going on at the moment in The South West meant it felt like a really exciting time to be working in Exeter. As well as developing Cow this week, Lucy and I have scoped out The Boat Shed down at the Quay on the way to the climbing wall and managed to catch Deborah Pearson’s ‘History, history, history’ presented at Exeter Phoenix by The Bike Shed and Robert La Page’s spectacular ‘The Far Side of The Moon’ at Theatre Royal Plymouth (both were also one person shows, though wildly different from Cow) we’ve also eaten a lot of pasties and proudly sport Warren’s loyalty cards in our wallets.

Cow’s week culminated in a Scratch. Thank you to everyone who came. I spoke to one audience member who said he tried to go to every scratch at The Bike Shed. That’s wonderful, and special. You don’t find that everywhere. There’s such a supportive community of theatre goer’s in Exeter, people who are genuinely interested in the process, and the results! Ready to turn up and give honest feedback. We were billed with The Bishop Sister’s ‘Sophie Hates Theatre’ and a fellow called Alex performing a beautiful oddity about showers, the three pieces were seriously different in tone and uniquely brilliant, I can’t wait to see how we each develop. It was so encouraging to be part of the pie of talent The Bike Shed are cooking up. Can’t wait for our next stint in May.