The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

It’s high noon in the tiny Wild West town of Twotrees when interloper Ransome Foster – an East Coaster with grand ideals – starts educating the locals, inspiring the ire of the feared Liberty Valance. If Foster’s to survive, he’s going to need the grudging help of grizzled gunslinger Bert Barricune.
Thanks to a flashback framing device, we know Ransome makes it: this play is about how. Rather than adapt the classic western film of the same name, writer-director Jethro Compton’s gone back to the original short story by Dorothy M Johnson. He’s crafted a meaty, wry and at times suspenseful tale about masculinity, old versus new and the ambiguity of legend.
It also plays nicely with the western genre. Foster, the lone outsider (played with the right mix of good intention and naive arrogance by Oliver Lansley), arrives as a regular teacher, not a Clint Eastwood badass; and Niamh Walsh’s no-nonsense saloon-bar owner Hallie Jackson scorns rumours that Indians are responsible for Valance’s attacks.
The battered saloon bar set is great and the lighting is atmospheric. Compton cultivates a real sense of creeping horror in a scene in which black bar worker Jim Mosten is trapped in a life-and-death game of dice with James Marlowe’s gleefully malevolent Valance.
But the production suffers from the film-style music cues that emotionally signpost almost every scene. And while it’s a coup to have got ‘The Magnificent Seven’s Robert Vaughn on board, his constant voiceover drains the drama from the show.
Ironically, this otherwise compelling production’s main problem is that it’s just too much like a movie.



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