Cowbois

Currently gracing the stage at The Royal Court Theatre in Chelsea is a brand new, high energy, yeehaw-larious show called ‘Cowbois’. Running until Saturday 10th February, this thought-provoking comedy set in the Wild West is the colourfully camp interpretation of a modernised western written by Charlie Josephine (in association with The RSC).

Cowbois is a unique show bursting with creativity and innovation. It’s fight for justice and equality superbly highlights the irony, ignorance and sheer hypocrisy in our ‘modern’ world. A 21st Century that is still stuck with views from the outback.

Originally Cowbois was premiered in The Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon in 2023 and has transferred to London in hopes to spread the courage for humans to live life outside of boxes and labels. I loved the progressive theme of the play - the unapologetic, unquivering belief that love is colour-blind, gender-blind and that being completely true to yourself is heckin’ cool. Having such a strong, inclusive sentiment definitely eased the audience into a sense of unity, and most importantly a safe, non-discriminatory environment. Let’s face it, that’s exactly what you want from a theatrical experience, right? To feel thoroughly embraced and entertained.

The plot was easy to follow throughout. We started with the introduction to a group of dissatisfied women in a small, sleepy town where their husbands have been missing for almost a year. With the fellas presumed dead, the only man left in town is the Sheriff, an unreliable drunkard who is more of a hindrance than help. Due to the absence of the males, the ladies soon learn to not just survive but thrive, protecting themselves from the notorious bandit Jack Cannon who pays a visit whilst running from bounty hunters. We promptly find out that Jack Cannon is wanted in more ways than one.

The play is set in Frank’s Saloon, thus the entire show is placed in and centred around a large saloon bar. The band are set stage right and a wooden staircase was situated on the left side. It’s a shame in my opinion that the musicians featured are only half-visible and slightly tucked away around the corner. I would have loved for them to have been prominently displayed and included further in the design and layout as they are even referenced during the show. There was opportunity for the band to be featured more especially as there was an inordinate amount of space behind the main scenery. This also meant that exits and entrances from the back weren’t entirely concealed and exits and entrances became somewhat distracting.

The costumes used were a highlight for me. An array of fabulously flamboyant ensembles were presented, each suiting their personalities marvellously. The characters were all very unique and each owned their own set of lovable quirks. Clearly having been well directed by Charlie and Sean Holmes, I commend the cast on their engaging, high energy from start to finish. 

Even though the entire cast gave a great performance collectively, some of my most enjoyable moments came from LJ Parkinson, Paul Hunter, Sophie Melville and Lee Braithwaite. Also, a special mention to Lemuel Ariel Ado who did an excellent job of playing ‘Kid’.

My favourite scene in the show was the water-play between the two lead-lovers Miss Lillian and fugitive Jack Cannon. The creative use of lighting paired with amusing position shifts in-between led to a series of comic stills, lit in a humorous fashion, really making a splash! The scene changes throughout were also notably creative and retained the raised energy levels.

It’s fair to say the stunning, dulcet tones of Bridgette Amofah dazzled a delighted audience and Vinnie Heaven also rocked the microphone. I did enjoy the original songs that were scattered through both acts, however they never felt fully complete. We were treated to musical interjections by the talented cast yet I craved longer songs, more structurally sound, built with even more musical colouring.

Cowbois comes with warnings of loud noises including gunshots, flashing lights, adult themes and alcoholism which is certainly important to consider if you or your friends/family suffer with sensory sensitivities or aforementioned triggers.

If you do decide to venture to The Royal Court to see this hootin’ tootin’ all shootin’ and lootin’ production, I would definitely recommend purchasing a programme. Unlike some other cases in theatre memorabilia, this souvenir is fully worth every penny. It has been carefully composed, filled with passion, poetry, originality and has such a poignant insight to trans masculinity, gender fluidity as well as interesting information about the show. It confirms the overall concept, equality and respect for all. 

Writer Charlie Josephine describes the play as ‘a love letter to the trans masculine people in history whose stories have been ignored or erased’. Their desire to celebrate individuality was abundantly clear and met with a supportive standing ovation and rapturous applause. It looks like this town IS big enough for a new set of Cowbois after all.

This show was reviewed on the 17th January 2024.  Cowbois runs at The Royal Court Theatre, London until the 10th February 2024.  Tickets available here: Cowbois - Royal Court (royalcourttheatre.com)

Review written by Jasmine Alice

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Photo credit: Ali Wright

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