Sad About the Cows @ The Actors Centre
Sad About the Cows by Michelle Payne
Sad About the Cows is a work in progress, solo performance, written and performed by Michelle Payne. It highlights the story of an Essex girl, who due to the ever growing pressure of social media, is obsessed with staying skinny.
As the play starts we are introduced to Rachel (Payne) who is a self proclaimed Ariana Grande super fan. She appears to be a fun loving, typical Essex girl as she addresses the audience telling us her favourite Grande songs, as well as her favourite performances of the star. Rather quickly however, you begin to realise that Rachel is obsessed with her weight, she frowns upon people who are not as slim as herself, and begins to talk the audience through her eating routines. It is apparent how fixated Rachel is about weight, as she talks us through the calorie count of every single food item. Even more worrying than the calorie count is the fact that there really isn't much food featured in Rachel's meal plan, it consists mainly of fruits and water.
Despite her obsession with weight it seems that Rachel is happy with her life. She has a large group of friends, who she has known since school. She has a boyfriend, and it appears she is happy with how "good" she looks. Rachel is studying for a beauty qualification, she dreams of being a make up artist for the world's most famous models. Aside from her studies, she busies herself by working out, hitting the town and working at TGI Fridays to pay the bills. On the surface she is your regular young woman, but as the audience's journey with Rachel develops, cracks start to form that make you doubt her happiness. As Rachel is working on a work experience project (a fashion show at a shopping centre) she collapses. She blames it on overworking, yet it is clear that she is starting to realise that her obsession with her weight is making her suffer.
Michelle Payne portrays Rachel perfectly throughout her decline. Through the text Rachel comes across as a judgemental sort, yet small gestures and expressions from Payne make it clear that Rachel is using this persona to hide her own insecurities and worries. As Rachel loses her boyfriend due to her obsession with her diet, Payne takes you on a journey of anguish and despair. The celebrities she adores, and the Instagram followers she craves have made the people in her life lose interest and leave. Rachel is left alone in her room sobbing and slowly starting to realise that the decisions she has made, if continued, could have a long lasting, devastating effect on her life. This is highlighted by two poems about eating disorders, that Rachel recites as she tries to convince herself one last time that this is the life she wants to lead. This original poetry from Payne is the highlight of the play, and shows why she deserved the award for Best New Writing at 2015's Camden Fringe. Payne's comic nature also comes across terrifically throughout the story. A moment that made the audience roar with laughter was when she described the nightlife of local town Basildon, as 'Bas Vegas'. A perfect pun to let the audiences guard down, before being taken into the, gut-wrenching, negative impact of an eating disorder.
For a work in progress it is first class. Some of the sound design, however, does need improving, it is unclear whether the judgemental voices, that enter Rachel's mind, are her self deprecating thoughts. Or a series of comments she has seen online that make her feel the need to be the "perfect" size 6. Either way this is a minor detail that did not affect the overall message of the play.
Rachel's story ends in closure. She has recovered, she has seeked help and her career in beauty is on the rise. She has admitted to her loved ones how bad the obsession with her weight had become and she is slowly on the mend. Although this may appear as a "happy ending" the story as a whole managed to highlight what can happen when the influence of a celebrities weight and appearance can take over a young fans mind. It is not a pretty tale, and can lead to the worst consequences. The play highlights how important it is to be happy in your own body, and not become fixated on looking like someone else.
Sad About the Cows is a well researched, expertly crafted look into the negative effect social media can have on our society.
Reviewer- Corey Hennelly