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Last Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Review: Midnight Cowboy
By Charles Pamment
BBC News, Edinburgh

Con O'Neill and Charles Aitken in Midnight Cowboy (play)
Con O'Neill and Charles Aitken star as Ratso Rizzo and Joe Buck
The book that inspired Oscar-winning 1969 film Midnight Cowboy has been adapted for the stage at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

Gay love or male friendship? The precise nature of Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo's relationship has been debated ever since James Leo Herlihy's novel Midnight Cowboy appeared in 1965.

Its bleak story of loneliness, lost innocence and desperation made for compelling fiction and was memorably filmed four years later with Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.

Now the book has inspired a stage version at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. But with so much to live up to, does Tim Fountain's adaptation deliver?

Charles Aitken plays Joe Buck, the eponymous cowboy who comes to New York to make his living as a gigolo.

Painstaking performance

But the hustler fails to find the rich female clientele he has been hoping for and ends up broke and desperate.

Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy (film)
The roles were played by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in the film
Aitken portrays Buck's loneliness well, though his character should perhaps command more sympathy than it does here.

His reduction to despair is indeed tragic, but the performance never demands you pity him.

As Ratso, the crippled, tubercular destitute who becomes Joe's self-appointed manager, Con O'Neill is more successful.

This is a painstaking, moving performance that comfortably reaches out to the audience.

There are some nice touches to the production. The use of Bob Dylan and radio news bulletins give a strong sense of period, while the mirrors that border the simple set emphasise both Joe's vanity and the enforced self-reflection he has to undergo.

Clumsy set

Assembly Theatre deserve credit too for resisting the temptation to deliver a showcase production reliant on big name stars.

Charles Aitken and Con O'Neill in Midnight Cowboy (play)
James Leo Herlihy's novel has been adapted by Tim Fountain
Yet one can't help feeling frustrated. This should be a highly emotive and thoughtful piece of theatre; sadly, it isn't.

The dialogue is unnecessarily verbose, while the number of clumsy set changes stop the actors bringing the emotion of the story to the fore.

With tickets priced higher than the average and a marketing budget second to none, this show has perhaps come to Edinburgh with a London run on the horizon.

However, with 400 empty seats at this performance and two weeks yet to run, this could turn into a long month for all concerned.

Midnight Cowboy continues at the Assembly Rooms until 28 August.


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