Performed at The Place Theatre, Saturday 15 September
Westerns, once the pinnacle of the early film and television industry, have long since fallen out of fashion. These stories no longer satisfy the mainstream, it seems. People immediately think of gunslingers and dusty old saloons and, despite the genre perhaps beginning its comeback with the likes of ‘Westworld’ and ‘Bone Tomahawk’, many say very firmly “Western’s aren’t my thing” and move on.
However, on Saturday 15thSeptember, I had the privilege of watching The Swan Theatre Company’s performance of ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ by Jethro Compton, based on the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson, at The Place Theatre. This play brings the themes of love, revenge and justice to life in an engaging setting full of humour, tension and emotion, and also explores the treatment of women and black people, striking chords with ongoing political issues that we hear so much of today.
What immediately struck me as soon as I sat down was the set. The Prairie Belle Saloon, where the entire play takes place, was created so artfully and realistically that the audience really were transported to the Wild West. Everything had been thought of, from the mismatched chairs to the antique stove, the well-stocked shelf of whiskey (of which copious amounts were drunk during the performance) and the candles hanging from the ceiling. The set was amplified by the skill of the actors, especially Lissy Malt who played the independent and feisty saloon owner, Hallie Jackson. With Liberty Valance Swan Theatre Company displayed some of Bedford’s finest talent, and the company made the western exciting again. Preconceived ideas of this genre should really be left at the door, because as Swan demonstrated, the Wild West still has a whole lot to tell us about the gritty goodness and badness of human nature.