Cash Cow review, Hampstead Theatre

Phoebe Pryce and Jonathan Livingstone in Cash Cow at Hampstead Downstairs

Phoebe Pryce and Jonathan Livingstone in Cash Cow at Hampstead Downstairs - Credit: 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.

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.

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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