Tag Archives: Royal Court

COWBOIS

★★★★★

Royal Court

COWBOIS at the Royal Court

★★★★★

“The trans and queer characters are self assured heroes who inspire awe and universal swoons from cast and audience alike”

The transfer of Charlie Josephine’s Cowbois from the RSC’s base in Stratford-Upon-Avon to London has been hotly anticipated and much trailed and it’s easy to see why.

In a town 100 miles from anywhere, ostensibly on the American frontier, a group of women, children, and a perpetually drunk sheriff, have been left behind by their male townsfolk who have gone off to join the gold rush. A wood panelled bar and four leather bar stools, backed with a sign of ‘no guns, no politics’ is all that’s needed to take the audience to this familiar setting. We’re introduced to each of the women through a prolonged discussion about how the ladies take their grits, with sugar or salt, the cheeky subtext of which sets up for a fantastical journey of gender discovery ignited by the arrival of the outlaw, Jack Cannon.

Playing with the image of the American cowboy, an icon of masculinity, is nothing new. The popularity of films like Brokeback Mountain and The Power of the Dog show how exploring gender and sexuality in this repressively conservative setting works. But where Cowbois differs is in centring the voices of women and trans people in a way that’s uplifting, rather than tragic. The trans and queer characters are self assured heroes who inspire awe and universal swoons from cast and audience alike.

The infamous Jack Cannon, played with swagger and style by Vinnie Heaven, acts as a catalyst for change for all the townspeople in sometimes magical and mysterious ways. De facto leader of the group Miss Lillian, Sophie Melville, is enthralled by Cannon’s charm. Their intense sex scene is deliciously wet and wild, staged under blue light (Simeon Miller) punctuated with moans and splashes from a substage pool. Later events are unexplained and unexplainable, but that’s no bother – this is a fantasy after all.

“There’s plenty of high camp music, movement and costumes that keeps the silliness coming”

Lillian and Jack’s moments of tenderness are sweet but surpassed by those between Jack, Kid, wonderfully played by Lemuel Ariel Adou on press night, and Lucy/Lou, Lee Braithwaite, where the bandit’s arrival inspires a recognition of something in Lucy/Lou that had not before been named. A small but perfectly formed moment.

There’s plenty of high camp music (Jim Fortune), movement (Jennifer Jackson) and costumes (Grace Smart) that keeps the silliness coming. A four-piece band (musical director Gemma Storr) plays on stage throughout that could only have been improved through being more visible, rather than tucked off to the side.

The action of Act I proceeds seamlessly (co-direction Charlie Josephine and Sean Holmes). There’s broad coverage of themes from racial injustice to homophobia to trans bodies but these are all briefly danced over, with characters ready to absorb whatever is presented in front of them with childlike acceptance. This is no criticism – it’s cheering to just be absorbed in the charm and fantasy of the piece rather than having to think too deeply about injustice and inequality. But as the act comes to a close, things do feel like they are going all too well, and as the dancing spirals to a climax, low and behold the smoke clears and the long-forgotten men of the town are there in silhouette having returned to the town.

Act II brings the conflict, along with a barnstorming performance from LJ Parkinson as one-eyed Charlie, but it’s swiftly resolved. Rather than deep and brooding intellectual discussions, mostly the men just seem bemused and ready to accept the collective awakening that’s happened in their absence, before joining in for the gun slinging finale.

Cowbois is a queer western fantasy celebrating individual expression and love in all its forms. Its feminist exploration of gender identity will leave you feeling lighter and more optimistic than when you went in.


COWBOIS at the Royal Court

Reviewed on 17th January 2024

by Amber Woodward

Photography by Ali Wright

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

MATES IN CHELSEA | ★★★ | November 2023
CUCKOO | ★★½ | July 2023
BLACK SUPERHERO | ★★★★ | March 2023
FOR BLACK BOYS … | ★★★★★ | April 2022

COWBOIS

COWBOIS

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page

 

Cuckoo cast

Cuckoo

★★½

Royal Court

CUCKOO at the Royal Court

★★½

Cuckoo cast

“Despite strong visuals, the dark comedy doesn’t say anything ground-breaking or particularly witty and the script”

 

Cuckoo, the latest play from Michael Wynne and directed by Vicky Featherstone, has an interesting concept. We are introduced to three-generations of a family living in Birkenhead as they sit around the dinner table, engrossed in their phones, eating a fish and chip tea. Doreen (Sue Jenkins), the sweet and unwittingly funny grandmother, waits on her two grown-up daughters – Carmel (Michelle Butterly) and Sarah (Jodie McNee) – and Carmel’s near-silent daughter Megyn (Emma Harrison, making her debut). Megyn, after another argument with her irascible mother, storms upstairs, locks herself in her grandmother’s bedroom and thenceforth will only communicate via text.

Why? The reason is never fully obvious, and the plot is, unfortunately, rather aimless. As the story unfolds, we do, however, learn more about the family’s history and possible theories as to what may have driven Megyn to such a drastic action, as well as exploring the sometimes-dangerous escapism that our phones can offer us.

Jenkins and McNee are the standouts here and their characters have the most interesting personal arcs. Doreen has used her phone to better her life – meeting a kind man who empowers her to speak her mind unlike her controlling husband of 45 years; whilst Sarah – the first to request that phones are put away at the table – is ultimately plagued waiting for a certain notification to come through.

Unfortunately, the relationship between Carmel and her daughter is not wholly believable. This is no fault of the actors who do a fair job of working the stilted dialogue but rather the effect of Megyn’s isolation for so much of the play. There is no opportunity to see a growth in their dynamic as Megyn simply isn’t present and when she is, she is mute or looking around wildly.

Despite the all-female cast, men loom in their lives. Sarah talks passionately about her father whilst – by contrast – Carmel complains about her lousy ex-husband. There is a suggestion that a man has hurt Megyn hence her retreat from public life, but this is never fully explored. Many big topics are mentioned in passing such as abuse and environmentalism, but no one issue is settled on long enough to be justly handled.

Phones feature heavily throughout the play. The characters hold them firmly in their hands even in the tensest of confrontations. As Sarah reveals her darkest moments to her niece, she cannot help but clutch her phone and check it hurriedly when it buzzes. Reality vs fantasy is a strong theme too – the family gather around a phone to watch a video of a recent terror attack and complain when the content isn’t graphic enough whilst Megyn posts lies online about the loving relationship she has with her mother to her thousands of followers.

This theme is hammered home by Sarah’s rather on the nose comment that perhaps Megyn locking herself away is a perfectly reasonable reaction to everything that’s ‘going on’ in the world.

The realistic set (Peter McKintosh) is a marvel. A beautifully constructed living room (complete with conservatory) and kitchen unit. The bottom floor is circled by a shallow pool of water into which rain cascades early in the first half. A hallway leads from the kitchen to the left-hand-side of the stage where a staircase leads its ascenders off stage. The audience is left to wonder what tragic sight is behind the locked doors of Megyn’s sanctuary until the very final scene. The lighting (Jai Morjaria) is good and well reflects the time or weather outside the home or the mood within its walls.

Nick Powell’s discordant sounds and folk versions of The Cuckoo create a great sense of overwhelm and anxiety that reflects that caused by the constant stream of information available on our portable devices. Different sounds are utilised to represent various apps pinging off such as a ka-ching when Doreen sells an item online, a quirk that is given sizeable meaning later on.

Alas, Cuckoo has not lived up to its promise. Despite strong visuals, the dark comedy doesn’t say anything ground-breaking or particularly witty and the script leaves much to be desired.

 

 

Reviewed on 12th July 2023

by Flora Doble

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

Black Superhero | ★★★★ | March 2023
For Black Boys … | ★★★★★ | April 2022

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews