Cowboy Mouth

“A gripping portrayal of a deeply damaged and damaging relationship.” JENNY BAINES recommends a play that’s more than just ‘deliberately obtuse.’

cowboy mouth Jack Parlett jenny baines jessica o'driscoll-breen tom russell

Corpus Playroom, Tue 13th – Sat 17th November, 9.30pm, £5/6

Dir. Jack Parlett

Cowboy Mouth features, among other things, a dead crow, a plastic hamburger phone, and a mysterious ‘Lobster Man’ (Jack Parlett). Put like that, it does appear to be “deliberately obtuse”, as I was warned by the ominous director’s notes. However, it’s also a gripping portrayal of a deeply damaged and damaging relationship.

As the play opens Cavale (Jessica O’Driscoll Breen) and Slim (Tom Russell) are asleep in the centre of the stage, surrounded by the detritus of a rock and roll lifestyle. The calm of the sleeping figures is soon broken by Slim’s forceful outburst. There is a barrage of noise throughout: the only musical instrument onstage is a drum kit, which Russell plays at full volume, and the characters often hurl their words nat one other. This concerned me at first; shouting soon becomes tiring if when allowed to dominate the play. But I needn’t have worried. The loud sections are perfectly balanced with quiet, and the tension is never allowed to drop. The threat of separation is always just around the corner: a beautifully still moment of reconciliation is shattered by five words from Slim.

The sheer energy with which Russell throws himself into the part and around the stage is astounding; his Slim is a force of nature, at times frighteningly violent. But he is not a one-note character, and his vulnerability and childishness are made painfully clear in a practically flawless performance. Slim’s presence can always be felt, even in his silence.

This came through very well in a hushed stand-off during which Slim writes and Cavale paints on opposite sides of the stage – each intensely aware of the other. And it’s the strength of both actors which makes their quarrels and reunions so compelling. O’Driscoll Breen takes a little while to settle into the role, but as the play goes on she really comes into her own as one half of this destructive partnership. Even in the bizarre and distant world evoked, there is something very real and very natural about the relationship, evident both in the dialogue and in the physical connection between them.

The real flaw in this production is the ending. After the climactic moment, the audience was left in the dark – quite literally – as to whether the play had actually finished. There were a few awkward claps and a good three minutes of hushed whispering before we realised that yes, it really was over. I’m not sure whether the exit of the actors during the blackout was a conscious decision to play with the conventions of ending a show or some kind of staging issue, but I’d love to see it altered. Let them come back out, take a bow, and receive the applause they so whole-heartedly deserve.