Tag Archives: Sophie Melville



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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Reviewed – 26th March 2019



“The poeticism and rhythmic word play from writer Ross Willis is spell-binding”


Talking trees, talking cabbage foetus, a yellow boulder for a mother, this isn’t your average story about the care system. Where the topic is more often than not touched upon with bleak pessimism, filled with only doom and gloom, Wolfie tells the tale of abandoned children with lively vibrancy that leaves you laughing and crying all in one go. The bold, imaginative creativity and, quite frankly, mad-hat ideas from the writing and direction (Lisa Spirling) blows your mind. Another wonderfully bonkers and surprising theatrical element is always around the corner. But this trippy spectacle never detracts from the story. So full of heart, this affectionate tale of two sisters is disparately painful and warming, proving the power of love.

This is about the Sharkey Twins. Together through birth, together through – no, that’s the wrong narrative. Life never takes you on your expected course. As these two sisters are suddenly separated, days old, will they ever be able to find each other again? As one is taken in by an unreceptive mother, the other discarded in the woods and brought up by the surrounding wildlife, their lives go down similar debilitating avenues in differing circumstances.

Yes, we hear about children raised in the wild by packs of animals, a la The Jungle Book, but in this production, there is a deep subtext running through where the woods personifies the care system. When you’re released from the wilderness of a care home, and forced into the real world, you’re not equipped with the right tools to be human, let alone an adult. Without blatantly pointing a finger, Wolfie reveals the flaws and general lack of support the care system offers with evocative subtlety.

Tour de force performances from Erin Doherty and Sophie Melville leave you in complete awe as they masterfully glide or jolt between the twenty-odd characters that together they assume with such precision. The poeticism and rhythmic word play from writer Ross Willis is spell-binding. It’s astonishing to think that this is his debut play! Certainly one to watch for the future as are Doherty and Melville.

It is a multi-sensory experience with bubbles, glitter galore, balloons, rave music and audience participation, effortlessly integrated into being integral to the story. I’m not one for being incorporated into the action, as an audience member, but Doherty and Melville do so in such a playful and inviting way that it feels a pleasure to be included in some small form.

An epic journey from inside the womb, through to the difficulties of adulthood, our human struggle and constant pursuit for love takes precedent in this production. The message to take away is that a life without love, or little of it, may affect our path forever. Never lose your sparkle. Wolfie certainly never does. It shines brightly as one of the best theatrical experiences so far this year.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Helen Murray



Theatre503 until 13th April


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Her Not Him | ★★★ | January 2018
Br’er Cotton | ★★★★★ | March 2018
Reared | ★★★ | April 2018
Isaac Came Home From the Mountain | ★★★★ | May 2018
Caterpillar | ★★★★ | September 2018
The Art of Gaman | ★★★★ | October 2018
Hypocrisy | ★★★½ | November 2018
Cinderella and the Beanstalk | ★★★★ | December 2018
Cuzco | ★★★ | January 2019


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