‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’: A Review
Liverpool University Drama Society’s (LUDS) production of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance came to the Stanley Theatre, between Wednesday 21st and Friday 23rd April, at the Liverpool Guild of Students.
To provide a bit of context, this is how the story goes; a man by the name of Ransome Foster (played by Charlie Collinson) turns up in the sleepy American town of Twotrees. Found beaten and bruised in the open, he is brought by Bert Barricune (Gaz Morton) back to the local saloon, owned by the fiery Hallie Jackson (Solenna le Goff). There, he is cared for and offered somewhere to stay – though on the provision that he provides an education to Hallie’s adopted brother, Jim Mosten (Temi Oluokun). Aided by the local authority, Marshal Johnson (Greg Vicary), Ransome eventually has to confront his attacker – the infamous Liberty Valance (Sam Baxter).
The performance of a “world of woe” was delivered to such a high standard. On reflection, it reminded me that the ‘Wild West’ is by no means as glamorous as films tend to present it, and that the characters in these worlds have much deeper and richer lives than one realises. I have a huge amount of praise for the entire cast, as each character on stage was superbly brought to life upon the final night.
Charlie Collinson’s characterisation of the educated ‘Ransome’ was incredibly engaging – the audience’s eyes were drawn to him throughout. His character was branded as “a certified fool,” yet he pulled this off impeccably well and almost made it a desirable trait. His character transformed from a highly-inebriated stranger – “a nobody in Twotrees” – to the respectable lover of Hallie. Solenna le Goff’s fierce persona, as Hallie, proved a hit with the audience; a bag-full of witty comments exposed her as the boss of both saloon and stage. Later, her character opened up, and the audience saw a completely different side – a lovable character who deserves so much more. Both Charlie and Solenna executed these roles in the best way possible, and it was a pleasure to witness!
Gaz Morton, as the alpha-male Bert Barricune, portrayed a character with a lot to say, and also a lot to be admired. Already a firm favourite in LUDS, Gaz’s comedy was well received during the plot’s low points, and his ability to convey a love-stricken cowboy left the audience feeling hugely sympathetic. Greg Vicary’s character – Marshal – was also very comic on stage, however the thing that I was most impressed with was how effortlessly he managed to shift my perspective of his character – from seeing him as a harsh control-freak, to seeing him as a caring and admirable man.
One of my favourite parts of the performance was that between by Temi Oluokun, as Jim, and Sam Baxter, as Liberty – the pair’s confrontational game of ‘Liar’s dice,’ at the end of the first act was beautifully rendered, combatting the all-too-real racial issues of the time. Neither took their eyes off of one another, for what felt like hours, and the audience were left watching and waiting – themselves completely silent. Both actors’ efforts brought the important subject to light on stage, and it left me stunned as I left for the interval.
Portia Dodds’ role as the journalist Mary Dowitt helped to carry the narrative throughout, and she connected with the audience in a way which made it seem as if we were truly sat on the other side of her desk.
I was impressed with the level of commitment from each member of the cast, evident in the success of the show. The setting kept the audience rooted in the present moment, yet conveying the retrospective nature of the narrative seemed natural. On a technical level, the use of lighting complimented the sombre mood well, and there was a commendable amount of effort put in behind the scenes too with well suited costumes and makeup.
A performance about respect and protection, faith and fear, freedom and equality. I couldn’t recommend LUDS’ productions enough – this one was a masterpiece and stands out as being one of their best performances to date.