Review - Cowbois - The RSC, Stratford upon Avon

Cowbois - The RSC, Stratford upon Avon

Cowbois is a new “rollicking queer” comedy western play written and co-directed by Charlie Josephine with key themes of gender expression, love and acceptance. In a town in the wild west, all the men have been missing for almost a year, except for the drunken sheriff. Miss Lillian (Sophie Melville) runs the local saloon, bored, unaware her life was about to change when famed bandit Jack Cannon (Vinnie Heaven) arrives in town, who starts a gender revolution. Upon entering the auditorium, the saloon set piece before the red brick backdrop, with the classic western music playing immerses me immediately into the world of the wild west.

The performance begins and not one single performer falls behind in this production. Of course, following the spectacular performance of Sophie Melville’s Miss Lillian and Vinnie Heaven’s Jack Cannon is just the beginning of how much there is to unpick in this show. From the moment Lee Braithwaite (in the role of Lucy/Lou) entered the stage, they had me captivated. Their characterisation is beautiful and the change in the role is really brilliantly performed. Not only this but the antagonists of Frank (Shaun Dingwall), John (Colm Gormley), James (Julian Moore-Cook) and George (Michael Elcock) were spine-chilling. The level of tension for the first half of the second act never falls because of these performers. The character arcs of James and George were too incredible not to mention. By the end of the production, the use of comedy with these serious themes in their final scenes, really compliments their performances and really encourages the sense of comradery and acceptance.

The most memorable performance, however, must be LJ Parkinson’s Charley Parkhurst. It is something so hilarious that it is beyond words. Everything about this character, though on stage for little time, the scriptwriting, the costume, the performance is perfect and LJ Parkinson was exceptionally cast in this role, and deserves a standing ovation of their own.

There are some moments in the production that are very fast-paced and tricky to understand, but does not affect the overall quality of this sensational performance. By the end of the show, the audience couldn’t wait to give a standing ovation, which continued long after the actors have exited the stage and the house lights came up. The intimacy of this show is amazing with the loud pyrotechnic gunshots, which at first makes everyone in the audience jump, but have adapted to expecting by the end of the play. This show could easily, however, fit larger theatres and would suit a UK tour or West End run incredibly. It certainly deserves a much longer run at the Swan Theatre or, hopefully beyond so many more theatre-goers across the UK can experience the impact it has. It is undoubtedly important, funny and beautiful.

This performance was reviewed on Tuesday 24th October 2023.  Cowbois is currently playing at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, booking until the 18th November 2023. For more details and tickets, please visit:

***** stars

Harrison Horsley

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Photo credit: Henri T