The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

  • Drama
  • Writer and Director: Jethro Compton (based on the short story of Dorothy M. Johnson)
  • Cast: Oliver Lansley, Niamh Walsh, Paul Albertson, Lanre Malaolu, James Marlowe, Robert G. Slade, Hayden Wood, featuring the voice of Robert Vaughn
  • Park Theatre, London
  • Until 22nd June 2014
  • Time: 19.30
  • Review by Katerina Yannouli
  • 17 May 2014
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
4.5Reviewer's Rating

Cowards die many times before their deaths. The brave experience death only once.
Of all the strange things I’ve ever heard, it seems most strange to me that men fear death,
given that death, which can’t be avoided, will come whenever it wants.
Julius Caesar – Shakespeare

My keys…my wallet…my mobile and I’ m ready to ride off to the sunset on my loyal…double decker!

The set is a typical Wild West saloon, dark and smoky, complete with swinging doors, bar stools and half-empty bottles, no spittoons though – I always wondered how they managed to find the aim! In the middle of the scene, a modest pine casket with a bouquet of blossoms of the prickly pear on top. Enter Senator Foster, solemn and well-dressed. Why has the Senator come all the way from Washington to this sleepy, dusty town to pay his respects to an old cowboy?

Flashback 20 odd years, Bert Barricune – the dead man – carries in the saloon a man – Foster – he has found in the desert, badly beaten and half-dead from exposure. Turns out the stranger was beaten and robbed by the gang of Liberty Valance, the local desperado. His only possessions are just a few books – Shakespeare’s works among them – by every definition a tenderfoot. Foster is well-educated, an ideologist and a bit full of himself. He believes in the betterment of mankind through education and is amazed with the eidetic memory of Jim the saloon’s Negro caretaker and the illiteracy prevalent in the town. He eggs Jim on to educate himself and to leave the town for a different, better life. With the aid of Hallie, the saloon owner and unwilling student, an impromptu school is set up in the saloon. As both the fame of the school and the love/hate attraction between Foster and Hallie grow, Barricune returns with dire warnings: “Education brings rules and the law, and the law brings government” – and that is bad for the business of Liberty Valance. While, Foster and Barricune vie over the heart of Hallie and argue over ethics, politics and education the unavoidable visit of Liberty Valance in town and the imminent violence loom over all of them.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the story of David and Goliath with a twist. But, even though it adheres to the western genre the issues that touches go beyond gun-slinging and duels at sunset, racial equality, democracy and government – who and why people vote, centralised government and the function of law; ethics – murder, love and responsibility; the right to education.  And yet, it never slips to didacticism nor does it become overly dramatic, it remains at all times balanced and in the end overall funny, witty and surprising.

Jethro Compton and his creative team accomplished to stage a Western expertly. The set is well-made and realistic. In the story you get the Good, the Bad, the Girl and the duel in the sunset.  Robert Vaughn’s voice-overs are timely and give the play something of the hue of the silver screen. The cast have taken to their roles with aplomb. Their performances are persuasive, they have depth and they have evidently worked hard on the accents. Niamh Walsh is magnificent as the prickly, feisty and tender-hearted barwoman Hallie and James Marlowe is chillingly murderous as Liberty Valance, “we take other mens lives to benefit our own”, after all.

Tenderfoots, gunslingers and desperados alike should all see it!

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