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Cowbois - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Charlie Josephine's new play Cowbois explodes on to the Swan Theatre stage with great exuberance and colourful celebratory joy. 

Sophie Melville as Miss Lillian and Vinnie Heaven as Jack Cannon. Photo by Henri T.

Staging a
"rollicking queer western" might sound like a bit of a risk by the RSC but if it were to be a risk  then more than pays off. It is a piece that never preaches at it's audience it is simply bringing them along for the ride, and it is quite some ride.

The show is set in an unnamed town in the Wild West where the women and an alcoholic sheriff are left in a sleepy existence where their husbands have been gone for almost a year in search of gold. It takes the arrival of most wanted bandit Jack Cannon to change the inhabitants whole perspectives allowing for self exploration and gender freedom. 

Vinnie Heaven commands all the audiences attention from the minute they swagger in as Jack Cannon. They have such a magnetic stage presence that draws you in. Their confidence and strong performance is matched by superb vocals. 

Upon the return of the husbands who find things completly changed the second act does feel a little lost initially especially as Jack is not seen for a large part of the act. It plays out as a whole lot of bickering between the commanding husbands who simply can't accept the things they return to discover.

LJ Parkinson's arrival as Charley Parkinson does re-ignite the energy of the second act and the performance leads to an all guns blazing final 20 minutes that is exhilarating to watch. 

Michael Elcock (George), LJ Parkinson (Charley Parkhurst), Shaun Dingwall (Frank) and Colm Gormley (John). Photo by Henri T.

Josephine's writing is clear and precise delivering both humour and heart and combines the themes within the piece whilst seemingly never taking itself too seriously. It's messages do run clear though, it's a letter of hope and acceptance for non-binary and trans people.

In terms of the cast, it's delivered with real enjoyment that, it feels liberating to watch them all. Sophie Melville is tremendous as Miss Lillian, she is constantly watchable and matches well to all around her, particularly Heaven as Jack. Shaun Dingwall plays Lillian's husband Frank with commanding strength that has the whole town under his thumb.

Lucy McCormick is a hurricane of energy and impresses as Jayne, whilst Paul Hunter shows both comedic flair and heart as Sheriff Roger Jones. Lee Braithwaite's performance as Lucy/Lou is a simple marvel to watch as they discover their true identity - this is actually their stage debut and shows great potential for the future.

Josephine co-directs alongside Sean Holmes who deliver a clever staging that has a clarity of vision though at times the pacing is a little off with some further tightening this is a piece that deserves a huge future life. 

Promising in the promotional material "like nothing you've seen before" and this rings true, it's a unique production to watch, especially in all the gun slinging and the gender freedom and expression. Hopefully it's a piece that touches the right hearts, whilst bringing in a few who don't get it or understand. Buckle up for a yee-haw thrilling theatre performed with heart and freedom. Here's to the future for this show.


Cowbois plays at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until Saturday 18th November. Tickets are avaliable from

Lucy McCormick (Jayne), Lee Braithwaite (Lucy/Lou), Alastair Ngwenya (Kid), Sophie Melville (Miss Lillian) and Vinnie Heaven (Jack). Photo by Henri T

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