Tony Hawks is best-known as a comedian and author, and a regular on radio, now he adds musical theatre writer to his list of credits with the world premiere of Midlife Cowboy, now playing a four-week run at The Pleasance in Islington.  Hawks also directs and stars in this new musical so it comes across very much as a passion project, and you can clearly see his style peeking out from beneath the Stetson.

Midlife Cowboy is a slice of suburban life; Stuart (Tony Hawks) and Jane (Debra Stephenson) run the Swindon Country and Western Club, and as they tackle difficulties in their own marriage they also must find a way to take first prize at the Railway Museum Gala Evening after years of being pipped to the post by the Civil War Re-enactment Society.  Their friend Graham (Duncan Wisbey) is looking for love, and his advert for new members to the club attracts Penny and Dan who will change the groups dynamic forever.

On the whole the narrative works well, it’s a classic tale of the underdogs coming good against all the odds.  It is very much a comedy musical, both in terms of dialogue and some of the songs, but it also picks up more serious themes.  Sometimes the comedy and the drama clash, and you feel the laughs are being sidelined in order to shoe in a dramatic moment that really didn’t need to be there, resulting in the next round of jokes falling flat.

Given Hawks experience in radio, it’s perhaps not surprising that Midlife Cowboy often resembles a radio play, where extra dialogue has been added at the expense of more valuable visible clues.  This is most noticeable in the transitions between scenes, where everyone looks a little lost as they get in to the next position.

The songs, all country and western of course, are exceptionally good.  There are those comedy numbers, ‘Big Willie’ being one which delighted audiences, but there are also plenty of those classic tunes rooted in folk, that makes the soundtrack sound like a fully formed Country and Western album that would fly off the shelves.  The production doesn’t appear to use any microphones, which meant the music, played live on stage, often drowns out the voices of the singers, it feels like you are listening to it through the earphones of the person sitting next to you on the tube. No such problem for James Thackeray though, in the role of Dan, who belts out two impressive solo numbers.  Georgina Field as Penny also manages to be heard in her various comedy routines.

Overall Midlife Cowboy has a lot going for it, the characters are recognisable although it would have been nice to see more of them bonding as a group, their individual stories make sense but start to become cluttered.  It could do with being just that little bit slicker, and some of the dialogue needs to be cut to make way for more stage action.  Once Midlife Cowboy has dealt with all its left feet, it could definitely line-dance it’s way to success.

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Midlife Cowboy at The Pleasance
Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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