Tag Archives: Sean Holmes



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



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Bugsy Malone

Bugsy Malone


Alexandra Palace Theatre

BUGSY MALONE at the Alexandra Palace Theatre


Bugsy Malone

“Drew McOnie’s musical staging is simply stunning”


Down in the back alleyways of Prohibition era New York City, where shadows lurk beneath the stark, black fire escapes, lies Fat Sam’s Speakeasy. You wouldn’t know it’s there; except that for two hours each night its doors burst open to the lucky few (hundred) who are assembled in the Alexandra Palace Theatre’s beautifully decaying auditorium. No password is needed. Just a willingness to embrace your inner child and dive headlong into a glorious world of escapism. A world of song and dance belies the average age of the performers. While we are busy recapturing our youth, they are stealing the show, grabbing grown-up talent for themselves, and making the stage their own.

Like Alan Parker’s film on which the musical is based, the mobsters and molls the bootleggers and showgirls are played by nine-to-fifteen-year-olds. An unusual idea which, on paper, shouldn’t really work. But Parker’s film did – and so does Sean Holmes’ current revival. The precocious and wild energy is harnessed by sky-high production values, slick stagecraft and some of the best choreography to be seen in a long while. Drew McOnie’s musical staging is simply stunning.

The plot might be wafer thin, but it is filled with big characters. Fat Sam’s gang are under attack from rivals led by Dandy Dan, so Sam obviously wants to fight back. Enlisting Bugsy Malone to do his dirty work is not his wisest decision. Bugsy has fallen for the singer, Blousey Brown, and all he wants to do is whisk her off to Hollywood. Much ‘splurging’ ensues, from machine guns full of custard.

Albie Snelson, as Fat Slam, sets up the story and introduces us to the characters. In fine form, Snelson breaks the fourth wall with a keen sense of comic timing and delivery. Gabriel Payne is, for the most part, comfortable with the wisecracks and cheeky charm that define Bugsy’s character. Only occasionally do we get the sense that older words are put into younger mouths. Payne’s sense of showmanship, however, is flawless. Love interest Blousey is given commanding maturity by Mia Lakha, oozing star quality when under the spotlight in her solo numbers; ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ and ‘Ordinary Fool’. The quality of the singing is beyond its years. Similarly, Jasmine Sakyiama’s sultry songstress Tallulah lights up the stage, especially when opening Act Two with her signature tune ‘My Name Is Tallulah’. With a slightly slimmer script than Fat Sam, Desmond Cole’s rival gangster, Dandy Dan, certainly pulls as many punches. And special mention must go to Aidan Oti as Fizzy – Fat Slam’s caretaker and wannabee singer. Overlooked by his boss, but definitely not by the audience who are captivated by Oti’s cheeky charming charisma. And, boy, can he move!

The marginally older ensemble brings the whole show together. Not a step was put out of place during the demanding routines and the joy that each performer brought to their role shot straight to our hearts with exhilarating accuracy. The show never dips, even during the scene changes which are choreographed into the action, seamlessly shapeshifting the locations. Designer Jon Bausor, complemented by Philip Gladwell’s lighting, are the unseen alchemists that help transform the piece into pure gold.

It isn’t music heavy. In fact, the balance of dialogue, slapstick, humour and musical numbers is pretty good. But Paul Williams’ compositions stand out. The band, led by Musical Director Connagh Tonkinson, is tucked away at floor level but fills the cavernous auditorium. Each number sounds like a hit. By the time we reach the finale the audience are quite rightly on their feet. Feet that are young and old and all ages in between. This show, that has everything, is for everyone.


Reviewed on 7th December 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith




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