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Review: Cowboys and Lesbians (Park Theatre)

Review by Sam Waite




Growing up can be rough – you’re still figuring out who you are, what you're into, and how you want the world to see you. Cowboys and Lesbians, now playing upstairs at the Park Theatre, takes a look into the psyche of two London teens as they both mock and create their own fantasies, and maybe even finally accept just how strongly they feel for one another.


Billie Esplen’s debut play follows BFF’s Noa and Nina as they chat between classes and set out to write their own epic Hollywood romance. While Nina takes her first tentative steps into same sex dating and Noa becomes ever-more obsessed with one of their teachers, we get to see the fruits of their labour in scenes telling the tale of farm girl Elda and ranch hand Carter.

Set against Esme Solomon’s farmhouse backdrop, writer-director Esplen keeps the piece moving along at a brisk pace, with the pair's schoolyard conversations having just the right tone of aimlessness alongside their rising subtext. The scenes set within Elda and Carter's world have a good balance of loving homage and outright mockery, with Elda throwing herself around the set dramatically and the numerous characters portrayed by the two girls leaning into archetypes as their surprisingly compelling arc progresses.


Georgia Vyvyan is an affable girl next door as Noa, too attached to a male teacher and distinctly lacking in many other strong connections. When tasked with bringing farm girl Elda to life, she nails the combination of mockery and affectionate pastiche, genuinely invested in her storyline while overdoing it just the right amount. Asked to play a couple of other over the top roles within the make-believe movie, she shines as a comedic actress and is entirely believable as a love-struck teen.

Opposite Vyvyan, Julia Pilkington’s Nina has a strong sense of social awkwardness, and her Carter is a pitch-perfect parody of personality-devoid romantic heroes. There is a real, deeply felt chemistry between the two actors, and Pilkington is very good at portraying the delicate, underlying affection that has clearly been building between them for some time. Also playing the two most prominent men in the Hollywood storyline, she brings strong physicality and a real understanding of the type of story being lampooned to these characters.


Esplen’s script is natural, funny, and often very winning. While some of its transitions may come across as slightly flat and awkward, dependant as they are on the pair simply leaving the stage and reemerging moments later as their other characters, the scenes themselves are continually solid. While the Hollywood film the girls dream of leans into parodic stereotypes, the scenes between the two lovestruck schoolmates feel genuine and all-too-familiar, and the balance between the two helps each one to land successfully with the audience.

Admirably down-to-earth and a richly-felt exploration of adolescent longing, Cowboys and Lesbians is an utterly charming exploration of how difficult it can be to grow up struggling to accept your own feelings, and how a strong bond between friends can both alleviate and further complicate these struggles. With a pair of dazzling leads, and a number of crowd-pleasing moments, this debut from Billie Esplen is a delightful hour and change that makes you think, makes you smile, and proves just how essential queer storytelling is in the landscape of modern theatre.


Cowboys and Lesbians plays at Park Theatre until March 9th



Photos by Ella Pavlides


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