Category Archives: Reviews

COWBOYS AND LESBIANS

★★★★

Park Theatre

COWBOYS AND LESBIANS at the Park Theatre

★★★★

“Pilkington and Vyvyan have amazing chemistry – their friendship and shy flirting seems entirely natural”

Cowboys and Lesbians, written and directed by Billie Esplen, is a queer romantic comedy about 17-year-old best friends Nina (Julia Pilkington) and Noa (Georgia Vyvyan). In their last year at secondary school, they are ready for the adult world and all that their young minds perceive it to entail – the freedom, choosing washing machines, and, most importantly, sex. Outside of school responsibilities, the two fantasise about their futures and a satirical Hollywood romance set in the Old West. Full of cliches, the teenage duo uses this story to explore their feelings for each other and their budding queerness.

The play fluctuates between scenes of Nina and Noa sitting on a bench discussing their hopes and dreams and scenes from their fantasy romance. In the latter, we meet the histrionic small-town girl Abigail – played by Vyvyan – who has dreams of making it to the unspecified Big City. One day, the charming Carter – played by Pilkington – joins her ranch as a farmhand and plays out every stereotype of a tough but sweet cowboy that you can imagine. The two, as expected, fall in love despite violent objections from Abigail’s older brother Jebediah and the intellectual interference of Abigail’s mentor Finneas. It must be commended how easily the pair move between the numerous roles – quick costume changes, exaggerated accents and great physicality do wonders here to help the audience along.

In both plotlines, the theme of stuckness is key – we see the lives of characters who feel that they have nowhere to go and must conform to what is expected of them whether that to learn to be a traditional housewife for the farm or go out to late night gigs in Bethnal Green. The most touching scenes are when Nina and Noa talk to Abigail and Carter respectively about their secret love and are encouraged to take the chance and be together when their created characters could not.

 

 

Pilkington and Vyvyan have amazing chemistry – their friendship and shy flirting seems entirely natural. The former is particularly strong as Carter who swaggers around and poses melodramatically whenever possible. The duo is also very funny – they have a great grasp of comedic timing, and their delivery is always strong and purposeful.

The set (Esme Solomon) is elementary but effective – the façade of a barn with wood-panelling and saloon doors to enter and leave the stage. A simple block sits in the middle of the stage on which the two friends sit as they compose their imaginary world. Pilkington and Vyvyan occupy the space well – making use of all the various props – such as the ladder and washing line – to add movement and intrigue to their dialogue. The lighting (Jamie Platt) works well with the set – a range of colours implemented depending on the time of day and the mood on stage.

There is an undeniable predictability in Cowboys and Lesbians, and it is full of well-worn cliches. Nevertheless, the play seems relatively self-aware, at times mocking its own reliance on the classic romantic structure of cinema and TV. Occasionally, the script shifts into the twee rather than the satirical which can make some moments of awkward teenage fumbling thoroughly cringey to watch. Overall, however, the play hits the right tone, and you can’t help but ‘awww’ when our protagonists finally have their first kiss.

It is a joy to see a queer coming of age story played out on stage. You will certainly laugh but you will also be touched by the naïve sweetness of it all. A well-executed and thought-out play.


COWBOYS AND LESBIANS at the Park Theatre

Reviewed on 23rd February 2024

by Flora Doble

Photography by Ella Pavlides

Previously reviewed at this venue:

LEAVES OF GLASS | ★★★★ | January 2024
KIM’S CONVENIENCE | ★★★★ | January 2024
21 ROUND FOR CHRISTMAS | ★★★★ | December 2023
THE TIME MACHINE – A COMEDY | ★★★★ | December 2023
IKARIA | ★★★★ | November 2023
PASSING | ★★★½ | November 2023
THE INTERVIEW | ★★★ | November 2023
IT’S HEADED STRAIGHT TOWARDS US | ★★★★★ | September 2023
SORRY WE DIDN’T DIE AT SEA | ★★½ | September 2023
THE GARDEN OF WORDS | ★★★ | August 2023
BONES | ★★★★ | July 2023
PAPER CUT | ★★½ | June 2023

COWBOYS AND LESBIANS

COWBOYS AND LESBIANS

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page

 

JAB

★★★★

Finborough Theatre

JAB at the Finborough Theatre

★★★★

“a lot is packed into this emotionally raw production”

There are two trains of thought about the pandemic. One that it is still too raw to explore in dramatic form; the other that it is old hat, and nobody wants to hear any more about it. But remember it, we all do. James McDermott has distilled those memories into a unique two-hander that follows the breakdown of a relationship, and of society, in tandem. The personal and the panoramic are mirrored effortlessly and it is impossible to remain unaffected by McDermott’s writing.

Anne (Kacey Ainsworth) and Don (Liam Tobin) are approaching their twenty-ninth anniversary, having long reached the comfort zone of the ‘can’t-live-with-you-can’t-live-without-you’ phase. Affection and irritation go blithely hand in hand; one minute dancing uninhibitedly to the Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams’, spilling wine and laughter in equal measure; the next bickering with jabs that often pierce uncomfortably deep.

From the order to ‘stay at home’, we follow the pair through the next twelve months. The pandemic itself is initially a backdrop to the minutiae of a marriage, but inevitably it draws in like a rising tide cutting off any escape route. Director Scott Le Crass keeps the actors within this frame of claustrophobia. Like caged animals they pace, sit, stand. Repetitive and functionless. Don at first feels safe. His vintage shop business wasn’t going so well anyway. Anne is twitchier, forced to work from home instead of being on the NHS frontline. She is tired of being the breadwinner, tired of her hot flushes and tired of “non-essential” Don.

“a compelling black comedy”

Although we know that’s not entirely true. Ainsworth is a master performer, eking out the nuances of her layered character. Each word, gesture and expression ring true. Tobin has a similar grasp of realism. They both make the stark shifts of mood believable. We recognise this couple. We are drawn into their individuality, but it is their inter-dependence that has us in an emotional stranglehold right through to – and especially during – the final scenes.

There are many scenes that take us there. Some short, some long, some dark, some light, some wordy, some silent. Jodie Underwood’s lighting slices between them while Adam Langston’s staccato, filmic music stabs at the transitions with Hitchcockian chill. The lights gradually dim in line with the subject matter as the action unfolds, and the comedy ebbs and makes way for the darker hues.

There is an extraordinary attention to detail. Anne’s password, we learn, is ‘cagedbird’. The transition from drinking from a glass to drinking straight from the bottle. Don tearing up his invitation to be vaccinated. The bursts of the optimistic, upbeat Eurythmic music fade into the scenes on certain lyrics: ‘some of them want to abuse you…’, or ‘when depression starts to win…’. These subtleties add poignancy and potency to Ainsworth’s and Tobin’s already powerful performance.

In a little over an hour, a lot is packed into this emotionally raw production. The words crackle with meaning, but so do the silences. “Jab” is a compelling black comedy. I definitely urge you to catch it (words I probably wouldn’t have chosen during the pandemic).

 


JAB at the Finborough Theatre

Reviewed on 23rd February 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Steve Gregson

 


 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

THE WIND AND THE RAIN | ★★★ | July 2023
SALT-WATER MOON | ★★★★ | January 2023
PENNYROYAL | ★★★★ | July 2022
THE STRAW CHAIR | ★★★ | April 2022
THE SUGAR HOUSE | ★★★★ | November 2021

JAB

JAB

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page