Review: Gun

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Westerns are having a moment. Perhaps the American present is so unappealing that the American past suddenly seems more attractive, but whatever’s going on, this show fits right into the zeitgeist. Written and performed by one man, William Hartley, Gun is stuffed with Western tropes and both honours and pastiches the genre. Hartley is a very talented performer and gives us not only his leading man, Roscoe ‘Blackjack’ Porter, but a score of other characters, all clearly delineated with different physicalities and props, showcasing this Brit’s remarkable repertoire of American accents.

The action starts in Hope Springs, an unremarkable and yet utterly typical Wild West town with a brothel above the saloon bar, natch. Roscoe occupies himself with playing cards, drinking whisky and some playful (if fatal) shooting, but things get a lot more serious when arch villain, Martin Vallance, sends his frightening employees into town to make trouble. (Vallance is just one name of many that references famous western films). Roscoe witnesses his brother being attacked by a masked character with dextrous knives and is spurred to get off his drunken backside and do the things that a man gotta do, viz. kill baddies, ride horses, be seduced by a beautiful woman and have a fight on the roof of a moving train. Also, drink more and play more cards.

Hartley accomplishes a pretty complex story with a handful of cunningly manipulated props, sharp physicality and a goofy, self-deprecating charm, which stands him in good stead when having to improvise in lieu of forgotten lines or when making a rare stumble in what is a very energetic and hardworking show. Though categorisable as comedy, some real tragedy is included, and a big dollop of eroticism in a brilliant set-piece that has the audience howling.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable show, beautifully directed by Phil Croft, and using spot-on sound and lighting effects. It is a very worthy addition to the Vault Festival, and hopefully will have a good touring life elsewhere.


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