Brighton Fringe 2018
One-man homage to classic westerns delivered at a break-neck speed performed by William Hartley and directed by Phil Croft.
The set is dressed minimally with the barest of hints to the Wild West including a bucket/spitoon, and a fake cactus used as a hatstand for the many characters (that also comes into play later) plus a myriad of props that are all used very effectively.
The story involves gunfighter Rosco “Blackjack” Porter and his brother, the Sheriff, as they face a whole slew of tough hombres who threaten them and their town of Hope Springs. While the plot remains simple enough it’s the journey, rather than the destination, that counts here.
This paean to pulp westerns has all the classic tropes, a down-at-heels gunfighter, an evil arms-dealer, a mysterious hooded killer, idiot henchmen and the employees of a, quite literal, “cat house.” One was reminded of Robin Williams as William Hartley (formerly of Clever Peter) leapt seamlessly from character to character. He plays an impressive roster at least 18 different personalities from a crack-smoking priest and a trouser-less old man, to the villainous racist Martin Valance and the illusive assassin, Miss Van Cleef.
There are elements of puppetry (with the high-squeaking cactus barman) and mime throughout, as well as a small amount of audience participation in a scene using playing cards to symbolise a mass shoot-out on the streets of Hope Springs. And this is one of Hartley’s strengths, as he is very adept at evoking all the imagery he acts out – whether it’s three comedy cowboys round a campfire, or a dramatic chase through a train – the scenes are vividly brought to life. This, combined with excellent sound effects and staging, means the production is technically brilliant.
While the jokes perhaps aren’t all as hard and fast as the imaginary bullets flying across the stage (and a few off-colour, over-sexualised ones miss their target) there’s enough energy and excitement to keep most audiences throughly engaged. This is a rugged comedy and probably more fitting for cowboys than gentile ladies from out East.