Grab your Stetsons!
Miss Lillian (Sophie Melville) and Jack Cannon (Vinnie Heaven). Image by Henri T © RSC.
Cowbois, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, running until Saturday 18 November 2023
Review by Heidi Barber
The play, written by Charlie Josephine and co-directed by Josephine and Sean Holmes is set in a sleepy, Wild West town, where a handsome bandit known as Jack Cannon (Vinnie Heaven), a trans masc cowboy, swaggers up to the saloon and inspires a gender revolution.
At the outset, all is quiet in the town with no name until one of the local townsfolk witnesses the outlaw Jack, bathing half naked in the local creek. As a God-loving woman, she is convinced that she has seen the Devil incarnate and is quick to warn the other town’s women but unfortunately for the men of the town, the women succumb to the wiles of the smooth-talking cowboy.
The men of the town. Image by Henri T © RSC
Bar owner Miss Lillian (Sophie Melville) becomes particularly besotted with the tall, dark, handsome stranger and the first half of the production ends with an unexpected romantic scene between the two main characters as the stage floor opens to reveal a hidden pool.
When the absent men from the town return in the second half of the show, the audience is confronted by compelling scenes demonstrating the ugliness of male aggression, control, and domination. The women who had been given the chance to be their authentic selves when they were free from the male gaze, become inhibited and restricted once again.
The final scenes combine a shootout between townsfolk and villains with an ongoing conversation about love in all its various forms taking place between the different members of the cast as they dodge the bullets.
Jack and Miss Lillian. Image by Henri T © RSC
This play tackles the issues of gender fluidity in a subtle and frequently humorous manner. It allows the audience to question the traditional notions of male and female roles and codes of behaviour without being too forceful. It certainly disrupts the traditional Hollywood version of cowboys and includes several truly memorable moments such as when the drunken sheriff Roger Jones (Paul Hunter) exclaims that he feels “Sexy in silk.”
With tremendous performances from the entire cast, this funny, heartwarming play is not only an exploration of masculinity, power and freedom but is also a great night out!
For tickets and more details go to: https://www.rsc.org.uk/cowbois/tickets