Reviewed – 19th September 2019
“All in all this is a lovely little show with the feel good factor”
Grab your stetson, pull on your cowboy boots, it’s time to dosey doe your way down to… Swindon. Yes, you heard right. In comedian Tony Hawks’ infectiously loveable new musical, the ‘tourist-free’ town plays host to the action. Following the everyday lives of its locals, who have a penchant for Country and Western, it’s a warm and relatable tale. What starts out as a wobbly and nerve-filled beginning to the show gives way to an assured, barn stomping second half.
Jane (Debra Stephenson) and Stuart (Tony Hawks) are a married couple who run the dwindling Swindon Country and Western Club, which is at a crossroads – much like their marriage. With only one other member, the socially inept Graham (Duncan Wisbey), they are in dire need of some fresh blood, especially if they want to win the coveted Railway Museum Gala Evening prize for best reenactment group. When two new members arrive, the vivacious Penny (Georgina Field) and kind natured Dan (James Thackeray), it certainly helps to shake things up, for better and for worse. Following the personal ups and downs of this motley crew, can this bunch of West Country cowboys put their issues to one side and show Swindon just what they can do?
It’s a welcome change to have a storyline about middle-aged relationships, especially when musicals are littered with young or first love. The writing and performances can turn a little melodramatic or predictable at times but nevertheless it’s still enjoyable to see a couple stuck in the mud, demonstrating how relationships aren’t always rosy. It’s even more refreshing witnessing Penny and Graham trying to find love again, later in life, forced to use such modern necessities as dating apps.
Tony Hawks and Debra Stephenson don’t quite have the acting chops that the other three supporting roles of Penny (Field), Graham (Wisbey), and Dan (Thackeray) have, but they seem fully aware, as a wonderfully tongue in cheek one liner about the ‘characters’ acting ability proves.
The songs certainly carry the show, highlighting Hawks’ comedy writing talent at its best. While some follow the generic Country music themes of love and heartbreak, others unconventionally ponder over Tinder and the joys of Swindon. The musical talents of the cast are admirable, particularly of the the supporting three who all alternate between playing drums, keys, guitar, bass, sax and oboe to name but a few. Stephenson also shows off her delicately pretty voice that suits her character well.
All in all this is a lovely little show with the feel good factor. It takes the cast time to find their feet but when they do it really does click. The story in Midlife Cowboy may be fairly slight with room to find more depth within relationships, but at the end of the day it’s a musical, there to entertain and play some catchy tunes, which it succeeds in doing. A well and truly yee-hawing good time!
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Adam Trigg
Pleasance Theatre until 6th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: