When we first meet Siobhan, she's covered in blood. She is also brandishing one heck of a carving knife. Clearly, she's been up to no good. Removing her drenched apron and washing her hands in a basin, Siobhan begins to fill in the gaps.
Back to the beginning we go, to a time before this amiable and humorous country girl got caught up in a bitter, three-way rivalry with her potential mother-in-law and a Charolais heifer. Yep, there are two other women in her partner Jimmy's life - his old dear and a cow.
Charolais, then, is a comedy. With writer and performer Noni Stapleton occasionally taking on the role of a sexually frustrated farmhouse animal with a French accent, how could it not be? There's darkness in there, too.
Siobhan is mad about Jimmy. Their attraction, at first, is purely physical, and Stapleton doesn't hold back when it comes to describing the inner workings of Siobhan and Jimmy's relationship (she lists all the places that she and her big, strong farmer beau like to get it on).
But boy, does she hate Jimmy's stuck-up mother, Breda. Silly Jimmy is obsessed with his prized and pregnant heifer. He's a total mammy's boy. After one too many brush-offs and snide remarks, a jealous Siobhan begins to develop homicidal thoughts… you can see where this is going.
When Siobhan becomes pregnant, the mother loses it. Reluctantly welcomed into Jimmy's family home, her loneliness and despair get the better of her.
Stapleton's script is refreshingly tight; a witty, smart and thoroughly original reflection on love, distrust and a lack of acceptance. The decision to make the titular cow an actual character provides frequent moments of hilarity (an accordion plays out whenever 'Charolais' sets off on one of her entertaining monologues).
This is a one-woman show, but it's a testament to Stapleton's skills as an imaginative and animated storyteller that she manages to create such charismatic character exchanges without the need for another performer. If there is a minor flaw, it's that Charolais falls victim to the idea that every contemporary Irish play requires a big, over-stuffed, twisted finale. It doesn't. We know things aren't going to end well for someone - there will be blood, remember?
Alas, Stapleton shoehorns in the unlikeliest of curveballs in a speedy and rather far-fetched third act.
Nevertheless, her intimate and often charming portrayal of Siobhan makes up for any downfalls. A funny and, occasionally, sad story, courtesy of a promising playwright.
Running until May 1 HHHII
> CHRIS WASSER