Home » Reviews » Drama » Death Row Cowboy, The Courtyard Theatre – Review
Credit: Niall Brew
Credit: Niall Brew

Death Row Cowboy, The Courtyard Theatre – Review

Pros: Death Row Cowboy has many strengths: interesting and thought-provoking subject matter; some creative plot lines; many strong acting performances.

Cons: There are issues with structure and pace, and a disappointing reliance on stereotypical characterisation and setting.

Pros: Death Row Cowboy has many strengths: interesting and thought-provoking subject matter; some creative plot lines; many strong acting performances. Cons: There are issues with structure and pace, and a disappointing reliance on stereotypical characterisation and setting. Carl Brant has spent the last five years on death row for the murder of his mother and a police officer. Now, his execution date is approaching and everyone is still seeking answers. Death Row Cowboy explores a range of themes, including love, social exclusion and fear. The ambiguous focus took me by surprise, as I was expecting the production to tackle…

Summary

rating

Good

A solid production debut – with some great strengths, and a few weaknesses. Three Peas have potential.

User Rating: 3.53 ( 9 votes)

Carl Brant has spent the last five years on death row for the murder of his mother and a police officer. Now, his execution date is approaching and everyone is still seeking answers.

Death Row Cowboy explores a range of themes, including love, social exclusion and fear. The ambiguous focus took me by surprise, as I was expecting the production to tackle the idea of the death sentence head on. The less focused approach has both merits and pitfalls. I like the fact that Death Row Cowboy prompts its audience to place death row in its broader social context and allows us to explore commonplace emotions.

However, the determination of the authors, Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe, to avoid making an argument left them pray at times to rambling structure and slow pace. What is more, while Three Peas state their aim to create stories that ‘are honest and free from bias,’ Death Row Cowboy was not a neutral representation of capital punishment. The only character to voice an opinion on the subject was stereotypically dumb and morally questionable prison guard, who supported killing inmates. Three Peas would benefit from either making an argument or paying painstakingly close attention to their structure and dialogue.

Indeed, the play’s scenes do not always flow into each other very well. At one point a surreal arcade-style fight scene interrupts the otherwise realistic drama. The scene is presumably designed to represent either a dream or a fantasy of Bobby’s, and probably to mix up the pace, but instead proves incongruous and a little confusing.

That said, Death Row Cowboy exhibits some fantastic scenes and some strong acting. The opening scene, in which the stage remains stooped in darkness as we listen to Carl’s 911 call reporting the death of this mother and the police officer, is both dramatically effective and truly intriguing. Throughout the production, both Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe, as Bobby, deliver some stand out scenes. Indeed, Lynch is able to communicate the gripping fear of a healthy young man about to face death.

Despite the general quality of the acting, there are a few issues with character stereotyping. As already mentioned, Bobby does lean towards the dumb Southern American. Unfortunately, it’s not just the characters that are stereotypical. Death Row Cowboy was set in an unspecified state in the Deep South. Hillary, the policeman’s young widow, wears a dowdy summer dress and her hair is plaited, conforming to the idea that the Southern USA remains planted in the 1950s. And while Texas and Mississippi are indeed the states Brits tend to associate with the death penalty, the majority of US states still use capital punishment, including many in the far North. This reliance upon stereotypical characterisation and imagery weakens the production’s overall impact.

On a final note, there is some good stagecraft. Lighting designer, Jai Morjaria, makes good use of lighting to represent fear and confusion. However, there are times when the stage was dimmed a little too far, making it difficult to see. A problem easily solved though!

Death Row Cowboy is Three Peas Theatre Company’s first production. It’s a promising first go. There are clear merits – Lynch and McCabe tackle a daunting subject matter; they are creative in their messaging and storyline, and there are many strong performances. Though the production is not without pitfalls, Three Peas clearly have potential.

Authors: Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe
Co-director: Florence Bell
Lighting Designer: Jai Morjaria
Production Company: Three Peas Theatre Company
Runs Until: The show has now finished its run

About Hannah Blythe

Hannah Blythe
Fresh from university, Hannah moved to London this September to work for a think tank. Does that make her one of those dreaded career politicians we've heard about...? Anyway, Hannah has written for various arts sites, and began her reviewing career at the Edinburgh Fringe. She is now keen to make the most the most of the Big City. For a stand-up obsessive and long-time theatre fan, this involves seeing as many shows, gigs and performances as possible. And when she's not in a theatre, she can often be found running round a squash court.
  • Andrea Ortiz

    I came on to this site today to help me choose what shows to see this week much like I do most weeks. This is possibly the first time I have seen a show before I read the review and I had to leave a comment. I’m from Oklahoma and a proud Okie. I am a film & theater lover studying in London the past few months. So when Death Row Cowboy was showing I had several friends tell me of this play as it was set in Oklahoma. I actually went not knowing much about the show, although I took a wild guess by the name of the play.

    I was blown away by the show and so where my friends. I’m probably biased because of where the play was set but it’s the best show I have seen in London. It was intense, exciting and extremely heart-breaking. The acting was fantastic. It wasn’t until after the show that I realised the two main actors were not from Oklahoma. Their accents where flawless. They from Ireland. I was shocked. The boys did their homework, not just on the accents but the information. The main characters are from a town called Jackson County, a very small town in Oklahoma that is not very significant in fact it’s probably the last town that you would imagine someone writing about.

    I have to say the review here is very disappointing and is not an accurate reflection on the play. I would hazard a guess that the reviewer has some personal disagreements with the writers or maybe she just was not paying much attention. I knew from the opening phone call where the play was set, Jackson County and it’s mentioned in several parts of the play. As for the play being stereotype of southern America? I completely disagree. I did not believe Bobby was a dumb southern American, I know the cliché you speak of but this character was not Cletus from The Simpsons and I never once thought he was dumb. He just seemed like a man making desperate choices, an idiot more so. As for the young widow’s choice of clothes, I actually have a dress that’s near the exact same (So a little offended by your comment). Come to think about has the reviewer even picked up on the fact that the play is set in Oklahoma?

    I really did love the show and I would love for this show to move to Oklahoma and I am nearly positive there has never been a play set in Jackson County.