Binge Fringe Magazine

INTERVIEW: A Digital Pint with… Billie Esplen, Throwing it Down with ‘Cowboys and Lesbians’ at EdFringe 2023

Bringing a new subversive twist on the romcom genre, Cowboys and Lesbians lands at EdFringe next week, billing itself as a fun, hilarious, and uplifting piece that sets out to queer romantic comedy. Writer-Director Billie Esplen is aiming to examine how the stories we consume affect the ones we tell about ourselves. We wanted to get on the saddle with the piece’s grappling on traditional storytelling narratives, harmful cliches and stereotypes, and how to have fun with making a queer romcom.

Catch Cowboys and Lesbians from August 2nd to 27th (not the 12th or 16th) (13:35). Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.

Jake: Hi team! You’ve created Cowboys and Lesbians, which is setting out to queer the Romantic Comedy genre – tell us a little about your inspiration for the piece and why you decided to bring it to a Fringe stage.

Billie: The play is based on an extended parody universe I created at school with my best friend. It was a ridiculous, melodramatic kind of sketch-comedy version of dozens of teen films we’d seen, full of over-the-top characters. I think our way of expressing that we felt left out of these traditional narratives about teenagers was to make fun of them. It ultimately helped both of us break from these narratives as well – so this was something I wanted to depict on stage.

An earlier iteration of the show went on at the White Bear in London last year – under a different name, Scholar’s Creek. The feedback we got was so encouraging that I decided I wanted to take it to a wider audience at some point. So that’s our big hope for the Fringe – that plenty of people get to see and enjoy it!

Jake: Tell us a little about the characters in the piece, Nina and Noa, their journeys, and how the process was of creating/working with them.

Billie: Because the play has foundations in my own teen years, I decided to read back through a lot of the messages me and my schoolfriends exchanged (so many kisses!! xxx). It was a real experience – I was shocked how easily I reabsorbed all of my 17-year-old self’s favourite buzzwords and turns of phrase. After that, creating Nina and Noa was just an absolute joy. This is horribly clichéd but writing their dialogue really did feel just taking dictation from chats they were having in my head.

I think they both represent two different methods of coping with the insecurity, vulnerability and uncertainty of teenagerhood. Nina is very sensible and matter-of-fact about her perceived inadequacies and ‘uncoolnesses’ – she sort of likes to pretend they don’t phase her. Noa, on the other hand, deals with her insecurities by turning them into a kind of performative comic persona. This makes it seem like she wears her heart on her sleeve, but actually it’s just another form of armour. You need a lot of armour as a teenager, I think.

Jake: The show sees Nina and Noa make fun of harmful cliches and stereotypes that are fed to young women – besides being a fun and silly coming of age adventure, is there anything you’re hoping the audience will take away from it all?

Billie: I think in an age where more and more queer stories are available to us (as Noa says in the show, “no-one’s straight”!), it is easy to forget how submerged we are in romantic narratives based on heteronormative ideals: particularly when it comes to the traits that are deemed most “fanciable” (in both men and women). I wanted to write a play about how these narratives affected my own process of understanding my sexuality when I was a teenager. So, I hope people come away from the show feeling plenty of joy, and also feeling a renewed willingness to romanticise their own life.

Jake: Tell us about your relationship with Edinburgh and the Fringe – have you been before and how are you feeling about it all now we are so close?

Billie: I’ve been to the Fringe twice before, both times as an undergraduate visiting friends who were mounting student shows. I absolutely loved it both times. As this is my first time taking a show of my own up, I’m very nervous, but also very excited. Obviously I’m expecting to come home with a whole new group of sexy theatre friends!

Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?

Billie: I’d have to say a Honey Jack Daniels and with ginger beer – it’s got that sweet, American-style sentimentality at its heart, but rounded out by good old fashioned dry British humour.

Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2024), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023-24), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them