by | Mar 4, 2024

By Karyn Hodgkinson

 Milked, by British playwright, Simon Longman, is set in Herefordshire in the West country of England. It revolves around two young men in their early 20s, each trying to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Paul has returned from university in London and now is desperate to find a job ‘in media’, having impressive academic credentials in History. However after much searching, is unsuccessful. Snowy, his friend from a farm in the area, is equally desperate to find purpose having endured a fraught family life, involving an aggressive father who has high expectations for his son, having never lived up to expectations of himself. Both still live at home and their mothers seem to be their only female presence in their lives. Central to the plot is Sandy the cow, found by Snowy. Sandy is suffering from a terrible condition which has rendered her unable to move and which results in a number of horrible symptoms.

I was immediately drawn to the unusual subject matter, as it addresses the country/city divide and the problems arising from moving away from the country to the city. The play powerfully draws on the idea of purpose, the inner burdens we carry, family dysfunction, isolation and loneliness. In Australia and the UK, men are three times more likely to take their life than women. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and research shows that unemployment and loneliness figure largely as reasons for suicide in both countries. Painfully, this possibility seems to hang over the two friends as they confront the reality of each other’s lives.

This said, the play is as funny as it is poignant. For me, this is one of the features of the best theatre. The two young men hilariously consider just about every way to put Sandy out of her misery, with no success. What a metaphor for the perceived ‘hopelessness’ of their lives – their repeated attempts at an act of kindness to an animal continually fails.

The play is beautifully directed by Iain Sinclair. The timing and dramatic contrasts are impeccable. Just when we need a break from the rapid-fire dialogue, we are met with beautiful silences, quiet moments of frustration or lonely phone calls to an indifferent would-be employer. These moments are skilfully aided by Richard Vabre’s lighting design where spotlighting is used to great effect. The set is a minimal in-the-round ‘square’ where the action beyond the four corners of this square is as vital to the play as the action we see in the centre of it. The subtlety of the sound design by Connor Brown was very memorable, with the feint sounds of night-time putting us exactly where we need to be, as do the soft undertones of suspense.

William McKenna and Laurence Boxhall are outstanding as Paul and Snowy respectively. McKenna’s credits include the critically acclaimed Scorpius Malfoy from the stage show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Melbourne Theatre Company’s Admissions and Bernhardt/ Hamlet, as well as his lead role in the ABC drama The Messenger. Boxhall, originally from Oxford in the UK, is a NIDA graduate and featured in Worst Year of My Life, Again!, Neighbours, Spirit of the Game, Ronny Chieng and more recently in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Their chemistry as the two friends was evident throughout.

I loved the ending of the play, where ‘hope’ for Paul is implied through the symbolism of a self made miniature cow. He had the last word with Sandy. I didn’t feel so confident for Snowy’s outcome, but that’s for you to decide.

This is a great evening in the theatre. Don’t miss it.

Image: Ben Fon

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