Meet Jessica Barker-Wren
Ahead of a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe, the COW star and writer is glad to be back on home soil in Muddy Devon.
I’ve just been on the phone to a very happy-sounding Jessica Barker-Wren. The writer, musician and actor has just premiered her new play, COW, at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter’s pop-up festival at the Boat Shed on the Quay. Next, Jess and director Lucy Wray take it to the Edinburgh Fringe for August, exciting! To say she’s pleased to be back in Devon, the place that inspired the story is the understatement of the summer. And who can blame the girl?
COW, according to Jessica is a tragicomedy; a one-woman play (plus cow), with songs, that deals with change and how we ask for help, when life gets completely tipped on its head. The sole character, Bethan, has come back to Yeoford after losing Mum and discovering that Dad needs help to run the family farm. It’s by no means an autobiographical account of her life, but the story touches on familiar situations and experiences for Jess, not least losing her own mother and going through the biggest change of all, the grieving process. It’s not just about the obvious, though; the play explores those kind of changes that happen when you’ve been away from somewhere so familiar for so long. A bit like moving to London, as she has.
Coming back to spend more time in Devon has been refreshing for Jess, who now splits her time between here and London; but it’s left her hankering for more rural life and so, not meaning to rub salt in the wounds, I begged her to spill the beans on her favourite places.
For a vintage fix, you can’t wish for anywhere better than Revival in Totnes, a bit of an institution in the town (and one that doesn’t even exist on social media, it survives on word of mouth, by the way!). The carefully handpicked range of clothes, costume jewellery and footwear is immense and you can lose yourself in there for hours. (Having rediscovered Totnes today, I concur).
I’m naturally fascinated by old antiques and artefacts and I think Tom Wood Antiques & Coins in Ashburton is amazing. It’s absolutely tiny, you can probably only fit two people in there at a time, but inside is the most incredible collection of objects and the owner has the most incredible knowledge. On my first visit to the shop, I must have spent five hours there, examining everything; in the end the owner went for coffee and left me browsing!
Since I’ve been at the Boatshed in Exeter preparing for COW, I’ve discovered this great new cafe opposite, March Coffee on South Street, which sells amazing doughnuts and very good, vegan food.
One of the things I really miss when I’m in London is being able to stop by the side of the road and jump into a pool for a spontaneous swim. One of my favourite spots is Shilley Pool on Dartmoor. It’s magical.
I grew up living all over Dartmoor and in the Teign Valley, spending time in Chagford, Modbury and my Grandmother still lives in Drewsteignton. To me there are so many favourite secret spots to just go and be for a while.
Dartmoor is known for its ancient stones and stone circles and the Tolmen Stone is a circular boulder on the banks of the River Teign with a hole in the middle, surrounded by mystery and intrigue. Legend has it that if you stick your head through the hole, you’ll be cured of rheumatism and children would be cured of the whooping cough. Whatever the truth, it’s a beautiful spot.
For a bit of grown-up glamour, Gidleigh Park is absolutely beautiful, and if I wanted to go for cocktails with friends (which I’m not likely to, since I’m more of a Guinness drinker), then of course I must recommend the atmospheric cocktail bar at the Bikeshed Theatre. Otherwise, there are plenty of great pubs in Totnes and I love the legendary Pig’s Nose at East Prawle.
Catch COW at Underbelly at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2 Aug: underbellyedinburgh.co.uk