Review: The Texas Tax Man, VAULT Festival

Luke Courtier’s latest show, The Texas Tax Man, is a meta-theatrical comedy about freelancers and the shame of missing the self-assessment tax deadline.

Two shy, thoughtful cowboys set out together on the run, terrified for having inadvertently committed this one unthinkable crime. With a bagful of receipts in tow, their only option is to seek out the notorious ‘Texas Tax Man’ who can get them out of this accountancy bind. On the way, they run into trouble with a bounty-hunter, and a cowboy who gleefully robs passers-by of their carefully saved receipts.

It is all at once a Western, a musical, and an adventure story. It uses a style of absurdist comedy which keeps pushing its theatrical conceit to extremes. It is also relatable; full of wry references to the world of fiscal admin which traumatizes many of us. Though the circular narrative in a sense restrains the comic potential of the whole piece, it does not lose the audience’s interest – thanks to its two engaging, well-written protagonists.

Luke Courtier and Hugo Bolton as Buck Highhorn, and James Peter Jameston, have a very good on-stage rapport. But it is Luke Courtier who particularly shines with perfect comic timing. The style of comedy developed between the pair is underplayed and subtle; satisfyingly at odds with the ridiculous conceit of the show.

The characterisation of Buck and James was strong: they were the unlikely heroes that were fitting to the genre, yet not reliant on its tropes for quick characterisation. This did mean the show took a little bit of warming up. The underplayed humour of the two leads was at odds with the way the other characters were played. The bounty hunter and Hank used a physical style of comedy for their parts; effective in its own way, yet made the show feel less coherent.

It was clever writing that used its own metatheatricality to invent a structure for the storytelling. References to the ‘narratively crucial town’ brought a healthy dose of self-parody into the piece. Courtier’s talents also include songwriting and singing, and these musical interludes effectively moved the narrative along, breaking up periods lacking in dramatic action. I felt that the narrative suffered at times from its slow pacing. The production could have made more of the sound and lighting design to achieve variation in the narrative’s pacing – it was effective where it was used.

The acoustics of the long, thin room inside the cavernous Waterloo Vaults provided an atmospheric, echoing emptiness fitting the mid-Western setting. Although, at times, it was difficult to hear the dialogue because of this difficult shape.

TTexas Tax Man has pitched itself at its audience effectively, and it is, ultimately, a touching narrative with a well-observed comedy at its centre. It is a great joke that the whole piece is a cleverly disguised meditation on procrastination – one that itself might have been written as a distraction of sorts.

The Texas Tax Man played at VAULT Festival till 12 February. For information and tour dates about the company Luke Courtier Comedy, click here.