Gun (4 stars)

This article is from 2019


credit: Toby Lee

Justice and laughter in the Old West

Gun is fun: not a deconstruction of the Western, but a parody with plenty of surreal touches. The hero is appropriately sardonic and cynical: his love interest is hidden beneath a mask of terror. The villain is English and only interested in making money and killing the Native Americans, and the deep themes that the Western addresses so well – family, loyalty, justice in a land where law has disappeared – are given cheeky subversions. William Hartley's decision to play all the parts, and use some fairly basic props and set, adds to the comedy, as he struggles to jump between characters, knocks over the set and somehow, keeps the narrative as straight as the sheriff's morality.

Hartley clearly loves the Western, even as he mocks it. He gives his hero the happy ending, avoids the more unpleasant machoism and racism of the 1950s' films and manages to engage the audience both in and falling out of character. The plot, despite his best efforts to undermine it with humour and slapstick, remains a sentimental parable about the importance of doing the right thing and the power of love to save even a violent villain: it is a testament to the genre's resilience.

Hartley's energy and versatility gives Gun its distinctive energy, and his exaggeration of tropes drives the humour. Although there is plenty of violence – the baddies plan to annihilate the Native Americans, a bar is burnt down, the hero has a tussle with the masked killer on the top of a train – Hartley depicts a world of easy moral choices and heroism. The lack of pretension and the good humour of the writer-performer ensures that the hour rushes past. Even the insubordination of the props become part of the shenanigans, and Hartley's combination of charisma, energy and cheek provide a witty and entertaining session.

Assembly Rooms, until 24 Aug (not 14), 5.10pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).


  • 4 stars

Phil and Will 'If you're gonna kill a man, better make sure you do it properly. First rule of a murder'. Gun is a one-man comedy western written and performed by a quarter of Fringe favourite sketch troupe Clever Peter ('fast, witty, clever, stupid' (Guardian)). With a unique composed score, and over 25 characters, it is…