Cowbois ★★★ Royal Court Theatre | Jan 11 - Feb 10, 2024

When a handsome stranger comes into a small western town, the established order gets seriously shaken up. Conventions and stereotypes are called into question. Does one only put either salt or sugar on grits, or could it be both, or neither? The complexity of a bad guy who acts like a good guy, or a good guy who does apparently bad things throws into question the simplistic binaries that the town has always lived by. In the end, the townspeople are liberated from a reductive view of themselves and their sexuality. Thanks to the stranger they are freed from the repressive cant that has controlled their lives and can put aside the crutches like alcohol that they have used to fit into their repressive reality. Cowbois is a fable of liberation that parodies the genre of the Western and its often simplistic rendering of morality and gender, but this show itself is also completely predictable, and as lacking in nuance as the genre it is ostensibly parodying. The jokes are broad and the acting is even broader. As Jack, the disruptive stranger, Vinnie Heaven puts in a befittingly beguiling performance, and we also enjoyed Paul Hunter's drunken Sheriff. While Act I seems rather drawn out, Act II bounces along. However, despite the engaging musical interludes and infectious energy of the cast, the polemical nature of the piece is always at the fore. While it is difficult to believe anyone would not respond to the show's life-affirming thesis, it does come off as rather heavy-handed and in need of some editing. There's definitely an audience for the positive messaging of this lively entertainment and its upbeat challenge to the status quo, and no doubt Cowbois will resonate with a lot of people.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Ali Wright

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