MIDLIFE COWBOY at London's Pleasance Theatre, Islington
Tony Hawks as Tony. Photo Adam Trigg

Midlife Cowboy 
has been a work in progress. Written in the 1990s by Tony Hawks, comedian, author and now producer most known as a regular radio 4 panelist and lovingly nicknamed by fans of his books as Fridgeman, this was staged as a short comedy musical at the Edinburgh Festival and was titled 'The Heartbreak Kid' starring Hawks and Ben Miller. It received positive reviews and was selected for the Perrier Pick of Fringe award. Hawks has moved it  from a one act play into an extended version, renamed  Midlife Cowboy. It has played a one night charity performance at London's Shaftesbury Avenue Lyric Theatre in 2016 and more recently as a read through at Islington's Pleasance Theatre to tighten both the story and plot still further. Now, September 2019 it is playing at this same venue.

Welcoming us into the very comfortable auditorium were the strains of Johnny Cash and Jimmy Webb, setting the appropriate tone for what was to come. With a stage showing saloon doors, lassos and saddle bags (set Edward Lister) expectations ran high and I sat back in my seat, stetson at the ready, to enjoy what I hoped would be an evening of comedy, reflection, music and laughter. After all, as a fan of Tony Hawks, I expected nothing less. 

But sadly no yee haw from me. Whilst the tone was genial and with a cast who were genuinely committed to their characters, the production simply lacked energy and oomph,moving at a pedestrian pace with a few too many stilted  and awkward moments along the way. Desperately willing it to gear up a notch or two, I hoped it would gain momentum but this was not the case. The laughs were few, the music was ok and although there were some poignant aspects the total effect was constrained.

The story itself was simplistically on one level. Frustrated banker Stuart (Tony Hawks) and his puppet making wife Cathy (Debra Stephenson) are a couple struggling to keep their marriage afloat. The third member of the club is loyal Graham (Duncan Wisbey) who is keen to find love but is painfully shy, that is apart from his guitar moment where he whoops delightfully. Enter into the frame two further members: hairdresser Penny (Georgina Field) who has recently moved to the area and enthusiastically sings of how Swindon has put the wilt into Wiltshire and loner guitarist/carpet fitter Dan (James Thackeray) and the scene is set. With the injection of line dancing into their repertoire, they aspire to take the prestigious cup away from the favourites, the Swindon Civil War Re-Enactment Society.

Five likable enough characters who seem more at home with their instruments than with the script. As carpet fitter Dan suggests, stick with what you do best and this is where they came into their own, clearly enjoying their musical moments. Advising them to play to their strengths, I would agree with Dan. Hawks is best known for his quick wit and repartee on radio panel shows and this is where I would suggest his strength lies. It is risky to produce, write and star in your own play and sadly it was a risk that faltered, stumbled and fell. So I guess I won't be whoopin' and a'hollerin' to his latest venture and will, with regret, hang up my spurs for the time being.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, with a short interval

Listings: Midlife Cowboy 
Venue: Pleasance Theatre, Carpenters Mews, North Road, London N7 9EF
Box Office: 020 7609 1800  
Dates: Friday 13 September 2019 - Sunday 6 October 2019
Times: Wed - Sat evenings 7.30 pm, Sun evening 6.30 pm
Matinees: Sat and Sun 2.30 pm

Prices: £20 matinees, evenings £25 (senior concession £22.50)

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