The comedian Tony Hawks always comes across as being a thoroughly nice man. Given that the great and the good of the ‘British Comedy Establishment’ turned up to support him on the opening night of his new ‘comedy musical’ Midlife Cowboy, I can only presume that this must indeed be the case.
It makes it all the more difficult then to have to say that, although his new show does have some things to commend it, it’s just not very good.
As it says on the blurb –
‘It is a tale of heartache, love, and friendship, and follows the fortunes of the members of the Swindon Country and Western Club as they discover the true nature of heroism in their bid to end many years of hurt by finally winning first prize at the prestigious local Railway Museum gala Evening!’
A disparate group of people after a common goal who need to overcome their individual demons in order to play their part in the bigger whole? What’s not to like about that? This is Stepping Out in Stetsons, surely? Well, I’m afraid not, and the problem, as with so many new musicals, is with the book.
Having set up the goal in the blurb above (wanting to win first prize in the competition) then we should at least have a song from one of the characters, preferably the protagonist, Stuart (Tony Hawks) in which he tells us why winning first prize is SO important to him. After all, if he doesn’t care, why should we?
The storytelling might just still have worked if the other characters were so awful at Country and Western that we saw they had a journey to make from being useless, to being the sort of act worthy of first prize. However, given that this is basically an actor-musician show and everybody of fully-formed and C&W-ready from line one, nobody has a journey. Well, no journey that ties in with the final want…
In a nutshell, there are three members of the Club, Stuart, his wife Jane (Debra Stephenson), and their friend Graham (Duncan Wisbey). They put out an ad for new members and get two, hairdresser Penny (Georgina Field), and single man Dan (James Thackeray).
After an awful lot of chit-chat in Act One, and innumerable song points being ridden over roughshod (I counted three in Jane and Penny’s tequila-soaked heart to heart alone), Jane suspects Stuart of seeing another woman, so throws herself at Dan, kissing him just as Stuart enters. None of which has anything to do with the final want of being first in the competition.
In Act II, Dan is shown to be a rather badly drawn gay character, and the woman Stuart’s been communicating with is actually from the local adoption agency (about whether they can adopt) which again has absolutely nothing to do with the final want, of winning first place in the competition. Jane and Stuart are reconciled. Graham ends up with Penny, and Dan. Well, poor old Dan ends up on his own…
There’s also the issue of diegetic and non-diegetic songs, i.e. Songs which the characters know they are singing (because they’re performing them onstage) and songs which the characters might be singing as monologue. The dividing line between the two is, well, a mess, meaning that you’re never quite sure who’s supposed to be hearing what’s being sung.
That being said, there are fine performances of ‘Cowboy with Confidence’ from James Thackeray, a brilliant comic turn from Georgina Field, and Duncan Wisbey’s ‘Big Willy’ could have come straight from The Benny Hill Show. Sadly, none of them are enough to save the show from being a bit like a soap opera with songs.
- Book, Music, & Lyrics: Tony Hawks
- Director: Tony Hawks
- Cast includes: Tony Hawks, Debra Stephenson, Duncan Wisbey, Georgina Field, James Thackeray.
- The Pleasance Theatre
- Until: Sunday 6th October 2019
- Running time: 2hrs 20min including 1 x 20 minute interval