Cash Cow review, Hampstead Theatre

PUBLISHED: 13:42 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:42 25 June 2019

Phoebe Pryce and Jonathan Livingstone in Cash Cow at Hampstead Downstairs

Phoebe Pryce and Jonathan Livingstone in Cash Cow at Hampstead Downstairs

Archant

An imperfect but provocative lob at pushy tennis parents and what it takes to make a champion

Well timed for Wimbledon, Oli Forsyth's probing new play asks what it takes to make a champion - by focussing on the pushy parents of a prodigy.

Construction worker Ade and carer Nina support their tennis-playing daughter's potential, but soon shed friends, relatives, home, jobs, and any identity outside of their offspring.

They become backseat coaches and managers, expecting a literal return on their investment.

Forsyth's time-hopping play shows the build-up of a career and its grim aftermath. With numerous short scenes, it's an involving 90-minute two-hander - sometimes resembling a tennis match in its zippy back and forth.

However, we can fill in gaps between the two timelines, making several scenes unnecessary, and big revelations need longer to unpack - especially an abusive coach, and the warped logic that leads to lawsuits and tabloid tell-alls.

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It would also have been interesting to further examine the class element of this elitist sport (the financial burden is enormous), and the specific experience of a female athlete.

Jonathan Livingstone and Phoebe Pryce effectively convey the duo's murky motives - encouraging and self-sacrificing, yet mercenary and ruthless - as well as representing the daughter they've subsumed, who responds in listless monosyllables.

There's no evidence she has the burning passion or tough mentality that makes a pro athlete, but the competitive drive is clear in her coercive parents.

And yet, if she'd succeeded, would it all have been worth it - in every sense?

Director Katie Pesskin keeps a tight focus on the couple, creating an uneasy intimacy, while Anna Reid's spare, white line-bordered space nods to a tennis court, and also feels like an inescapable cell.

Andy Murray's mum Judy still has an eye-rolling "pushy mum. allegedly" in her Twitter bio, demonstrating our ongoing fascination with high-achievers' parents. Forsyth's play is an imperfect but provocative lob.

3/5

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