MILK: NZ Dairy Farming 1957 – 2017

Comedy Underground, 305 Queen St, Auckland

22/04/2008 - 26/04/2008

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details


MILK is a standup-sketch-theatre show about the real and imagined history of the kiwi dairy farming industry as told by the farmers, the cows, some sheep, a few grass clippings, big business, an electric fence, four dairy owners, angry prosthetic legs, a dentist and a parafin candle. Starring the greatest cast ever to exist in comedy!

MILK is the latest show of genius from the company that brought Happy Hour for Miserable Children, and The Magic Chicken to the stage, created by the makers of the smash-hit Rumplestilts.

"Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw are an engaging comedy duo who look like they might have wondered off the set of a classic Keystone comedy." – Paul Simei-Barton. NZ Herald 

"Theatre Beating’s Rumplestilts is simply, uncompromisingly and most refreshingly hilarious…" – Nik Smythe (Theatreview)

Dates: April 22nd – 26th, 8:30pm
Venue: Comedy Underground, Wallace Trust Gallery, 305 Queen St, Auckland
Tickets: Adults $20, Concessions $15 (service fees may apply)
Bookings: TICKETEK – 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 5385)

Show Duration: 50 minutes

Trygve Wakenshaw, (Magic Chicken, Mystery of Irma Vep)
Kate Simmonds, (Rumplestilts, Tempest)
Brett O'Gorman, (Bad Jelly the Witch)
Sophie Henderson, (Ensemble Project)
Barnie Duncan (Magic Chicken, Strange Resting Places)

50 mins

Talented cast’s fresh and wacky material needs an editor / director

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 24th Apr 2008

If you are happy to forget logic and enter the land of Milk with an open heart and mind, ignore the weird stuff if it makes you feel a bit yucky, and enjoy the moments that are genuinely charming and funny, you’ll have a great night. 

Milk is definitely playing in the right venue, but it seems to slip between two genres. It could be a fabulous slapstick goofy pantomime for kids of all ages, or a whey-out absurdist political statement. In its current form, it is awkwardly curdled between the two.

Milk opens with four actors in cow-suits moo-ing in 3-part harmony, Thus Spake Zarathustra by Strauss – the theme from 2001, A Space Odyssey. I’m not sure who to credit, (no programme provided that I could see) but the pantomime cow costumes are very entertaining, each fitted with an apron of udders and a fly swot tail. 

As they chew cud, we meet their Farmer, a sexually frustrated lonely man, looking for a good Mrs Farmer; then the young woman he is interviewing for a job milking his cows. The cow called Onion desperately wants to know if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence; Dempsey Cow wants some lovin’; Betsy is cow not to be messed with and dear Mrs Clover is just happy with life.

The cows then take us on a whirlwind history in a parallel universe, where cows suffer alienation and solvent abuse through bovine urbanization. Just as I’m wondering where this is going, the street cows, drunk on sour milk and high on hoof-glue, ask us: "Was the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?" Wonder no more.

While the good bits in Milk are like a Larsen crossed with Footrot Flats cartoon, these highlights are nestled among some loose dialogue and patchy scenes. The ‘cow on mic’ stand-up-comedy-show-within-a-devised-sketch-comedy-show segments (with the rest of the cows laughing in unison on cue) has me baffled. Is it a dig at the more tangible ‘set-up-punch line’ tradition of stand up comedy? Each segment is delivered so fast, and topics are so random, that it’s hard to know what is said or going on.

Though fresh and wacky, this devised work needs a director’s objective outside eye. Not only could this bring judicious editing and tightening to the script, (Sally’s job interview did go on…), a good director could fully realise some glorious performance moments that were glossed over, or completely missed. (Betsy and Juan’s suitcase moment in Argentina for example)

The cast are talented and work extremely well as an ensemble.

Kate Simmonds, whose impressive physicality and elastic facial expressions, as both Dempsey and Cow142 the genetically modified cow, are at times mesmerising.

Trygve Wakenshaw shows great versatility by bringing warmth, serenity and gentleness to Mrs Clover, then reappearing as Juan the Argentinean bull, fuelled on ego and spunk. He breaks hearts, makes babies and proves that size does matter, even in moo-land. Of course he also gives Mr Farmer some testosterone tips on how to score (sire?) Mrs Farmer. Ok….

Simmonds and Wakenshaw as two German-Ants, create an outstanding piece of insect-magic that is another whole play in itself.

Buzzing in as an annoying blowfly, the talented Brett O’Gorman single-handedly carries one of the best scenes of the night without speaking a word.

Sophie Henderson is a fit and flexible performer, and transitions well between characters, but needs to slow everything down. A nice exchange between her and O’Gorman, ("Sally/Milky"), for example, could have been so much more, if pace and pitch had been varied and the occasional pause added for effect.

Barnie Duncan gives a consistent performance, as the vexed Onion, with furrowed brow, determined to break out to the paddock next door.

So how was it received? The opening night audience was fundamentally divided. The younger audience members hooted, hollered and had a fantastic night. Older folk and a few groups near the back were quiet and judging from facial expressions, slightly grossed out by the amount of cow-humping going on.

I felt a tad sorry for the large group from Fonterra (I spoke with one of them after the show) who thought they were coming to a light-hearted history of the NZ Diary Farming Industry  (understandable from the media release). Some left, while others mumbled drunkenly at certain moments. (Fonterra is the butt of a shrewd scene involving a pimp-cow luring Mrs Clover away from her organic pen to join the paddock of cows sitting at tables silently playing Monopoly.) 

As a perplexed Fonterra lamb confessed to me after the show, "We are just so conservative! We didn’t expect this, we didn’t know what to do!" Priceless.  

[Note: Kate attended the preview of MILK. The producers have advised this is "a fair-enough review and the problems she pointed at were already fixed by opening night." – ed]


ED May 12th, 2008

Due to popular demand, the quirky offbeat comedy MILK! Returns for a special extended season! Playing the Basement (old Silo theatre, bottom of Grey's Ave) @ 8.30 on the 13th, 14th and a special late night show @ 10pm on the 15th of May. Make sure you come along with plenty of time to spare before the show to make use of the radical drink special - where you'll pay only $5 for a Tiger beer. Tickets are $15/$20 Groups of 5plus $15 each Book at NOW for you and your mates, and a get a group discount booking. Be the cool one who came up with a good night out!

Trygve April 26th, 2008

The costumes were made by Madeleine Hyland.

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