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Cowbois | Royal Court Theatre

Written by Charlie Josephine, and co-directed by Charlie Josephine and Sean Holmes, Cowbois is an empowering and liberating show. Featuring five women and a hopeless sheriff in a town with no men, the world is instantly intriguing as we're transported into the town. After the arrival of wanted bandit Jack, the tight and unbending rigidity of rules and norms are questioned, challenged and changed for the better, with Jack finally finding love, family and warmth in the process. 

The cast are formidable, each winning the audience over instantly. Whether it's the devoted Sally Ann (Emma Pallant), the boldened Jayne (Lucy McCormick), the courageous Lucy/Lou (Lee Braithwaite), the wise Mary (Bridgette Amofah), lovable Sheriff Roger Jones (Paul Hunter), protective Lillian (Sophie Melville), challenging Charley Parkhurt (LJ Parkinson) or charming Jack (Vinnie Heaven), the cast are all equally impressive and incredible. It's rare to see a show where every character is so thoroughly developed and so layered, yet this show makes it seem natural. Despite already being two and a half hours, I would gladly welcome a much longer production. 

Vinnie Heaven as bandit Jack and Sophie Melville as Lillian have an incredible repertoire, and the chemistry between them is utterly convincing. Their relationship is sweet, but it's their equal treatment of each other and the stunningly choreographed intimate scenes that really stand out. Bethan Clark (intimacy and fight coordinator) does a wonderful job here, and frankly brings the magic of love making to the stage in a thoughtful way. This is helped by the ghostly fluorescent blue lighting by Simeon Miller. The show manages to defy any and all expectations with its strong writing. With Lucy becoming Lou, Lillian letting down her hair, Jayne's discovery of her sexuality, the sheriff becoming liberated and Sally branching out, the show's heart comes from the acceptance, support and love that they receive.

The second act deviates slightly with a rather prolonged scene with the return of the men. The switch in both the characters and tone of the show is abrupt, and the audience are as unsettled as the characters on stage. The toxicity of the "macho masculinity" oozes on stage as they verbally and physically try to regain authority. Whilst introducing a number of varying themes in the scene, such as misogyny, homophobia and racism, the show is careful to ground the conversation. Despite some hard to watch scenes, the show never tries to shock the audience, preferring instead to uncover unfortunate behaviours and ideals that still exist. 

The show manages to sneak a couple of songs in to help ease transitions and it's these rare but strong musical numbers by Heaven and Amofah that really resonate. Amofah's strong vocals gear the show up to its action filled climax and produces an epic moment, which contrasts with Heaven's voice that works magic, evoking elation and emotion. 

The use of staging is simple yet efficient, with a bar set up mid stage, establishing the location (designed by Grace Smart). With the dusty mirrors, old stools, worn down furnishings, and the general wooden work of the stage, the Western world pulls the audience away from the 21st century London living. The sutble sound design (Mwen) adds to the scenes, with the occasional sounds of muffled footsteps, birds calling and tensed tones quietly raising. 

The show gets better throughout the show and the climax is a revolutionary fight scene for stage. Set to Amofah's vocals, with the entire company on stage, all internal conflicts are forgotten in the face of survival. The characters are split into pairs, allowing for some particularly impressive choreography (there's a lot of gun shots here) and dramatic conversation and revelations. Movement director Jennifer Jackson has this interweaving well, whilst carefully keeping multiple plot lines separately. 

Cowbois is an absolute must watch show, filled to the brim with love, laughter and heart. Marvellously charming and beautifully entertaining, it's impossible not to fall in love with these characters and world, and it is a true credit to British Theatre. Cowbois is currently playing at the Royal Court Theatre until the 10th of February - for more information and tickets, follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Ali Wright


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