You know when you’re fumbling in the dark with the theatre programme and holding it up to the stage light to find the bit that says ‘based on a true story’ ? Well, that. Death Row Cowboy has such a realistic feel of documentary or journalistic theatre that I wondered for a moment why I’d forgotten the case of eighteen-year-old Carl Brant who shot his mother and a police officer one quiet night in Jackson County, Oklahoma.

And really there’s no higher compliment I can pay the writing of Andrew Lynch and Mark McCabe. It is delivered with such authenticity and conviction that you can’t fail to be drawn in to the story, and admire both the structure and the flawlessly-accented detail.

It starts almost like a radio play with a 9-1-1 call from an oddly calm teenager confessing to a shooting incident, and the motherly call handler who encourages him to walk outside to meet the incoming police cruiser.

Switching to the kitchen of the young woman whose husband was killed, we encounter her admirer Bobby Brewer – co-author McCabe in an excellent, deliberately too-loud depiction of social awkwardness and edge-of-assault repression – who’s slightly too coincidentally a prison officer and persuaded to smuggle in her letter to Brant demanding closure.

The triangular relationship between Brant, Brewer and the widow has such dramatic tension and genuine jeopardy that the other characters seem to fade, and the sub-plot about her having a porch constructed by ‘cowboy’ builders almost irrelevant. Whilst Rose O’Laughlin is emotionally intense in the part, she looks and acts far too young for the widow of a small-town cop five years on.

Lynch plays Brant as a textbook Death Row savant – nose buried in a book when others are raucous, perhaps a touch too long but his contrarian intensity makes his execution scene both poignant and revelatory and again the credibility is sustained with flashes of sharpened humour. There’s so much in this play will have you re-hashing its themes long after you leave the theatre.

See it if you can. Truly, a play with ‘conviction’.

@paulinlondon and I made an AudioBoom right out of the theatre:

https://audioboom.com/boos/3069724-death-row-boom-death-row-cowboy-courtyardhoxton-with-johnnyfoxlondon