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  • Isabella Thompson

Review - Cowboys and Lesbians

Park Theatre

Playing until: 9th March 2024




Photo credit: Ella Pavlides

Review {AD-PR Invite}

Billie Esplen's debut play Cowboys and Lesbians, follows two seventeen-year-old best friends, Noa (Georgia Vyvyan) and Nina (Julia Pilkington), as they navigate the intricacies of their adolescence through candid conversations and shared experiences. As they do so, they jokingly imagine a story set in the Wild West of America that reflects a host of literary and filmic gender stereotypes and character tropes which is then brought to life on stage. The result is a gorgeous, light-hearted combination of teenage bewilderment and heartfelt queer self-discovery. 


Esplen’s writing effortlessly weaves unexpected and eccentric remarks into the dialogue that authentically mirror the dynamism between two best friends. The performance was perhaps a little stilted at the beginning, but this did not overshadow the skilful writing and the actors quickly warmed up by the second scene which was a joy to see. The first time Noa and Nina’s Western fantasy is re-enacted onstage ignites both the writing and the performance with an infectious energy. The ironic embodiments of gender stereotypes were nothing short of hilarious. Vyvyan’s impression of a ‘pick-me’, ‘not like other girls’, book-worm heroine was spot on and consistently made me laugh out loud. Pilkinton’s exaggerated awkward cowboy swagger was equally well executed and the pair kept surprising us with their delivery, leaving the audience in stitches. Esplen seamlessly combines these moments of hilarious fantasy with nuanced truthfulness, each shedding light on the other. 

 

As well as entertaining, the play has a great deal of depth. Questions are raised about what it means to come of age and the role of sex in establishing adulthood and the writer explores the pre-sexual teenage period of self-discovery with great curiosity and sensitivity. We find ourselves reflecting on our own experiences: when did we mature? Did sex and sexuality have anything to do with it? The dialogue in these moments is exceptionally believable, yet gripping and emotive. The discourse surrounding sex between teenagers is extremely naturalistic and evokes the curiosity and desire of adolescence. 


The interactions between the ‘real’ characters and the ‘fictional’ ones are admittedly slightly cliché and some of the transitions in and out of the fictional world could have been more developed. Despite this, it does serve the narrative well, as the exploration of queerness through imagination and fantasy is incredibly romantic. This is supported by the inventive set designed by Esme Solomon with suggestive wooden panels that creates a barn-like environment, serving as an evocative visual aid. 

 

The play elegantly avoids exploiting dramatic queer trauma as a narrative device, instead focusing on a simple yet profoundly resonant storyline that speaks to the broader queer community. Its graceful simplicity serves as a powerful tool for fostering LGBTQIA+ acceptance by portraying gay relationships in everyday contexts, effectively normalizing them amidst societal narratives that predominantly feature heterosexual couples. This approach eliminates any feelings of 'otherness', creating a more inclusive and empathetic portrayal of queer relationships. The result is an incredibly heartfelt and honest portrayal that would make anyone melt.

 

Creatives

Writer and Director: Billie Esplen

Set designer: Esme Solomon

Lighting Designer: Jamie Platt

Producer: Eleanor Birdsall-Smith

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