Tony Hawks isn’t usually one to play it safe. After all, this is the man who decided to hitchhike around Ireland with a fridge. So Midlife Cowboy is another endeavour in a line of risk taking. And whilst you have to admire the efforts of what is so clearly a labour of love to him, it all unfortunately feels just a little flat. Maybe taking the roles of lead actor, director and producer means that Hawks couldn’t critically evaluate the final product and allow some of the faults to be ironed out long before those saloon doors swung open fully for the first proper time.
What’s most surprising is that for all the pedigree of its star names, (Debra Stephenson takes equal billing alongside Hawks), it is the supporting cast that steal the limelight. In fact, Debra Stephenson is something of a disappointment, all too often mumbling her lines and missing cues, giving a feeling that rehearsal time was limited.
Hawks and Stephenson play Stuart and Jane, a middle-aged couple who have lost the spark in their relationship. Stuart has given up his dreams of being a Country and Western performer, to work instead in a bank. Jane has the more interesting career as a puppet maker, which is a lovely touch but one that is never developed beyond a brief moment late on. The pair now spend their spare time running a Country and Western club, although as the story opens, there is only one other member, Graham.
It’s the introduction of two new members, Dan and Penny, that brings a freshness to the club, as well as introducing two actors who clearly understand how to perform in a stage musical. The difference between these two and our three TV and radio stars is noticeable almost from the first bars of their audition songs.
Alongside Hawks and Stephenson is Duncan Wisbey, his Graham as dull as dishwater, excelling with his dry humour and deadpan approach. James Thackeray, as Dan, isn’t quite as dull as Graham, but his carpet-cleaning, stressed-out Dan is a great fool for others to play off. And the fifth element of the cast is Georgina Field, stealing the show from the moment she barges through the saloon doors as the over excited hairdresser, Penny. Her ode to Swindon, performed on the ukulele and complete with questionable dance routine, generates the biggest laughter and loudest applause of the night, and shows that Hawks can write great comic numbers.
What is most notable throughout is that the five strong cast play all the supporting music. Guitars are passed around, keyboards and drums are located to the side of the stage and duties spread between all, whilst Georgina Field further impresses with her range of wind instruments. The finale, as they perform in the annual Railway Museum Gala Evening, allows the audience to join in as the musical element of the show finally allows a clap-a-long.
Midlife Cowboy isn’t all bad, but it is a slight disappointment given the pedigree of its star names. Hawks is a great writer, and would perhaps have been better off staying behind the scenes here, and handing the script over to a director more able to bring it to life. Right now it feels a little tame in comparison to Hawks’ more surreal projects, but it is just about sweet and adorable enough that you can’t begrudge him this little folly.
Written, directed and produced by: Tony Hawks
Booking link: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/midlife-cowboy#overview
Booking until: 6 October 2019