Review: COWBOYS AND LESBIANS, Park Theatre

A success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, the play transfers to London.

By: Feb. 24, 2024
Review: COWBOYS AND LESBIANS, Park Theatre
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Review: COWBOYS AND LESBIANS, Park Theatre Nothing ever happens to Nina and Noa. At 17 years old, they’ve never been kissed or been asked out. They’ve never gone to a party and their parents are still happily together. It’s a tragedy. Friendless and more interested in books than boys, they figure out they can write their own romantic novel. Thus, during their school breaks they fantasise about sexy runaway cowboys and forbidden lust in their own version of a standard airport romance. Billie Esplen’s debut play is a young and adorable queer rom-com that explores the anxieties of two closeted teenage girls.

They discuss the unrelatability of straight sex and their continuous struggle to find the idea appealing in an unpretentious and original funny script. Esplen owns an empathetic view that stays clear from any hint of patronisation or belittling, resulting in a wholesome and entirely heartwarming story. As a director, her set-ups are relatively static, but highlight the refinement of the text, allowing the dialogue to take her crowd on a journey.

Noa and Nina’s conversations are imbued with the unsaid. They confide in one another without shame, though they maintain the reticence of two youngsters who haven’t quite found their place in the world. Their feelings become emotional displacement, becoming their characters’ personality traits and implicit meaning. Julia Pilkington and Georgia Vyvyan give full-bodied performances, from the emotionally intelligent and insecure girls to the array of colourful parts they invent.

Top-notch physical comedy and a remarkable comic timing populate their deliveries. The formulaic comebacks of the American small-town farm and its funky stock inhabitants (who have “that accent” but don’t live anywhere specific) are a decisive departure from the contrast of the well-spoken young women with a vibrant internal life of the real world. Pilkington and Vyvyan are magnetic stage personalities, expressive and impressive in the smallest details they give their personas.

Those rural America tropes have rarely been funnier than in their hands, but it’s the slight inclusion of backhanded teenage cockiness and the grin-splitting finale that cement their work. The team are gifted storytellers, both on- and off-stage. Jamie Platt lights Esme Solomon’s warm design with firm illumination that changes almost imperceptibly in the middle of a few crucial scenes, manipulating the reception of the subtext by the audience with a clever stroke.

All in all, Esplen’s piece proves to be more than just an Edinburgh Festival Fringe success. It’s rare to see such a fully formed and genuinely exciting first production, especially when its humour is the kind that has you giggling at the back of the class or at a funeral. 

Cowboys and Lesbians runs at the Park Theatre until 9 March.

Photo credit: Ella Pavlides