Cowboys & Lesbians review – Park Theatre, London ★★★★★

Photo: Ella Pavlides

Review by Katie Shaw

Billie Esplen’s brilliant debut play Cowboys and Lesbians follows two seventeen-year-old girls, Nina and Noa, as they chat in the school playground about all the usual teenage things – their outrage at the lack of chicken in the canteen, how sexy their English teacher is, and their crippling lack of sexual and romantic experience. Realising that they are ‘so sensible they can’t write stories about you’, the friends decide to write a romance tale.

Set on a ranch in Tennessee or Texas – they aren’t quite sure where – Nina and Noa invent an elaborate fantasy between Carter the Cowboy and Elda (formally known as Amy) the ranch girl. The ultra smooth transitions from an English Nina and Noa to a Southern American twanged Carter and Elda were brilliantly executed, and Esplen’s excellent writing worked to amplify the natural talent of the two actors.

Nina and Noa embody the spirit and innocence of youth through their awkward but familiar dialogue. Initially, the conversations between Nina and Noa are both mundane and trivial, but this is made up for in their fantasy tale where they can embrace more exciting elements of life that are unfamiliar to them: love and desire.

It becomes increasingly apparent that the fantasy tale of Carter and Elda stands to enable the two friends to explore and test the boundaries of their own true sexual identities and their own romantic connection. Noa is seen in Elda, the one who feels obliged to say she’s into men for reputation’s sake, though Noa masks her interest in girls by obsessing over her male English teacher (she even cries over him), insisting that he is who appears in her sex dreams, when the reality is very different. Through Carter, Nina can embrace her virility; for Nina is unsure how to express her feelings for girls for fear of rejection and being humiliated. Oscillating between the two characters, we gain an understanding of the burgeoning but conflicting feelings between Nina and Noa.

This play had both awe and hilarity, and the comedic timing of the two actors was impeccable, with the dialogue being perfectly fitting for two awkward teens trying to grapple with their sexuality and true feelings for one another. The conversations as Nina and Noa felt so natural and familiar, as though these were conversations that I have had with friends at that age when we’ve had a crush (on a teacher or a friend…).

Ultimately a sweet coming-of-age and coming-out tale, the brilliantly funny and charming Cowboys and Lesbians is one that I cannot recommend enough.

Cowboys and Lesbians is at Park Theatre until 9 March 2024