It has been a week of some cultural involvement. My daughter Kit has been involved as the producer of two plays at her college in Oxford. The first of these was ‘Cowboy Mouth’ the punk play written by Patti Smith and Sam Shephard back in the 70’s.For those of you unfamiliar with the play it’s a two-hander, with Cavale (a highly-strung and highly disturbed girl who has ambitions of being a rock Diaghilev) and Slim (the rock singer who’s the object of her ambitions). The action takes place in a dismal room of a slummy New York hotel.
I have to admit that I approached the play with a deal of trepidation – I find most of the output of the New York punk scene to be pretty thin and feeble fare and I’ve never been a fan of Patti Smith – and, like the Curate’s egg, I found it good in parts. The play is de-constructed and almost impossible to assess regarding plot etc. being rather a device to deliver a collection of monologues and poses, but it has to be said that some of these are quite powerful.The contrary thing is that these sort of fly-on-the-wall, cinema verite-type pieces of theatre are more demanding of the director and actors than conventional productions … they have to really go for it and if they don’t the thing generally falls flat.
The good thing is that this Ba-Laylah production performed at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford almost made it … almost. There was certainly a deal of verve on show and there was no faulting the enthusiasm of the actors. But …I couldn’t help thinking that the director bottled it a little and couldn’t find a way of communicating the whole psychotic madness – the lunacy – of the situation Cavale and Slim found themselves in. Sitting watching the play unfold I wondered how much better (and ludicrous) it would have been to have portrayed Slim as a Sid Vicious-esque punk! But all-in-all I thought it well directed.
The three actors were good. Tara Isabella Burton as Cavale did tend to gabble her lines (I’d been hoping for some good, old-fashioned, drug-fuelled slurring) and was, I think, a little too chary of her character’s sexual abandon to really convince. Dylan Holmes as Slim was fine, though a trifle cleaner-cut than I think any grunged-up wanna-be rock god has any right to be. Jonathan Sanders was a terrific Lobster Man.In sum, a respectable 7/10 … worth seeing, but …