Billie Esplen takes us on a writer’s journey with Cowboys and Lesbians, Park Theatre 21 Feb – 9 Mar.

Cowboys and Lesbians by Billie Esplen at Park Theatre London

Seventeen and wasting their youth on flashcards and fantasising about their teachers, Nina and Noa have never been to a party or been kissed, and they’ll never admit that they fancy each other. Cowboys and Lesbians is a whole new genre of romantic comedy for all audiences, a heart-warming modern-day love story. This show transfers with critical acclaim to Park Theatre, 21 February – 9 March. The writer of Cowboys and Lesbians, Billie Esplen, writes for QX about how the show came about and the ensuing journey they took.

Cowboys and Lesbians by Billie Esplen

This January was the second anniversary of Cowboys and Lesbians’ first performance. To celebrate this small but crazy milestone, and our upcoming transfer to London and Bristol later this month, I thought I would share a little bit about our journey with the play and how we made it happen. 

Billie Esplen is the writer of Cowboys and Lesbians.
Billie Esplen

Back in 2021, the play wasn’t called Cowboys and Lesbians. It had the much more po-faced, far worse title of Scholar’s Creek: something Eleanor (Birdsall-Smith), my Producer and long-time friend wisely decided to sort out when we came to take the play to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Scholar’s Creek was born out of a challenge I set myself. I was working in TV production at the time, on Series 4 of Killing Eve. (This might sound glamorous but it mainly involved emailing food conglomerates asking for permission to use their produce onscreen.) I had produced a friend’s play that summer, for a week-long run at a lovely pub theatre in South London called the White Bear. When the theatre offered me another slot, that winter, I accepted, and I set myself the challenge of writing something for it. I knew I would never finish writing anything without a hard deadline – and this is still true!

In hindsight, this whole experience was charmed by beginner’s luck. Having never filled out an Arts Council application before, I described in detail the intended premise and ‘message’ of the play. I wrote the first scene so I could send it as part of the application. By some miracle, we got the funding. And, as a result, a gorgeous custom-built, hardwood set, and some show photos we use to advertise the show to this day. 

Poster for Cowboys and Lesbians at The Park Theatre London
Scholars Creek

I then wrote the second scene when it was time to send sides out for the auditions. And it was as if Julia and Georgia, who we cast as Nina and Noa, had stepped down from heaven and into the rehearsal room. By a trick of fate (also known as availability) I also ended up directing the play myself. Having had no experience, I thought I would seem like a lunatic and that the end result would seem like the plays I used to put on with my younger relatives at Christmas. However, this proved to be the best part of the entire process – and meant I was able to revive the play for the Fringe without hiring anyone else (something that would have made it impossible).

When we then went into rehearsals we only had an absolutely bare first draft of the play. Luckily for me, Julia’s, Georgia’s and Eleanor’s insights prompted the perfect redrafting process. Even when, after one day of rehearsals, Julia tested positive for covid (this was December 2021!), the theatre was able to move our slot back by a couple of weeks to accommodate, and the show did indeed go on.

Plenty of other things have changed since, of course – not least the title. The Edinburgh Fringe was obviously a far less charmed experience, as gruelling for us as it is for the thousands of emerging theatre makers who head up with no financial backing. But I consider myself beyond lucky that this was my first experience of grown-up(ish) theatre making. Had it not been so charmed – and had I not been joined by the best collaborators known to man – a small but tenacious group of people I consider family – there is no way I would have decided to do it all again at the Fringe, and the play wouldn’t be where it is now. And it wouldn’t have been seen by any of the young, queer people in Edinburgh who came up to us saying how seeing it made them feel. I am so grateful they got to see it, and that others will again when it goes on later this month.

Tickets for Cowboys and Lesbians:

Lesbians and Cowboys at Park Theatre, 21 February – 9 March 2024, 13 Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP, United Kingdom.

Cowboys and Lesbians Reviews

cowboys and Lesbian

★★★★ The Times“Superb… Brilliantly funny.”
★★★★★ London Theatre Reviews“Absolutely electric… Refreshing, original and laugh out loud hilarious.”
★★★★★ Broadway Baby“A revelation.”
★★★★★ EdFringe Review“Highly camp, uproariously funny.”
★★★★ Watch That Scene“An hour of joy.”




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