A comedy written and directed by John Godber about a not very good rugby team struggling to survive and then taking part in a prestige match against a much superior team – surely it must be Up ‘n' Under!
But no – though a projected all-female production of Up ‘n' Under had a part in its gestation, Muddy Cows is a totally different play, with very few overlapping elements.
Sadly it's also less original than Up ‘n' Under and there is little of the inspired physical comedy of the earlier play. However, despite this, I would hazard a guess that it will become another Up ‘n' Under in frequency of performance, amateur and professional: simple staging, six good female parts and, on the evidence of this production, an undemanding crowd pleaser.
This time the rugby team is union, not league, and female, not male. Maggie Deakin, a former star player on the wane, coaches a women's team which is shut out from the facilities, sponsorship and equipment of the men's club to which it's affiliated.
The first half, though lively and with more than enough one-liners to keep the audience on-side, is rather bitty: training sessions, the team on a boozy night out, camping out before a match, a serious dinner party – given the differences between the women, the amount of time they spend together is rather surprising!
Hayley Tamaddon's Amber Matthews ("the only solicitor who does her own soliciting") registers strongly with her manic energy, as does Claire Eden, doubling as sisters (fortunately with a tendency to need the toilet and disappear for a while), with a skilful caricature of identical twins of the soil. But we don't get far into the characters: [Elizabeth Carling]'s Maggie is the generic schoolteacher and Abi Titmuss (Jess), a very attractive and extraordinarily well-spoken doctor, is too nice to project the icy selfishness of the character.
The second half is much better. Set in a squalid dressing room, it follows the team's progress in a Sevens competition. Characters deepen and develop, none more so than the two women trapped in unfortunate marriages for opposite reasons: Amy Thompson (Kim), eagerly willing to please, tormented by the possibility of loss, and Una McNulty (Fran), sardonic, but vulnerable, contemptuously committed to her husband and with a growing devotion to the bottle. And Pip Leckenby, with a none too challenging design brief, makes sure that the dressing room reeks of mud, sweat and tears.