The Vault Festival is a fantastic initiative, and one of the best opportunities out there to see really promising new work that with proper attention should go on to reach even larger audiences. Gun, a one-man show by William Hartley, is a production which fully deserves this. One-man shows can be a mixed bag, standing or falling on just one performance; there’s nothing to distract from a lacklustre concept or a wobbly actor, but Gun avoids this completely.
The writing is killer sharp, as you’d expect from someone with a background in successful sketch writing like Hartley. This is top-tier genre-lampooning stuff in the vein of Bleak Expectations (BBC Radio 4), but aimed at classic Western tropes. Buckets are spat into. Saloon doors (charmingly small, but saloon doors nonetheless) are swung open. Playing cards are used more inventively than in most desperate magic tricks. A two-dimensional wooden cactus is indispensable.
Hartley’s energy, charisma and ineffable confidence fill the stage and draw you in with him: every character he plays is distinct and, yes, funny, but what elevates Gun is the absolute seriousness he puts into his show with everything he does. The show is excellently crafted, and as it unfolds over the course of just an hour you sit there thinking this could easily be made into a legitimate Western and we’d lap it up. Especially if Hartley was at the centre.
The plot is more substantial than I expected it to be, and some moments even quite affecting, though it shifts again immediately back into comedy, and you’re borne on by Hartley’s storytelling. Phil Croft’s direction allows for nothing to stand in Hartley’s way, and the staging, lighting and effects keep sweaty pace with him throughout. There’s one of the most enthusiastic sex scenes I’ve seen in any piece of media, not in the slightest held back by there being only one participant before us. Throughout, there are turns of phrase which would be perfectly at home in a Western movie, followed quickly by campy jokes which linger.
Gun is a good time for everybody, and not seeing it would be a crying shame. If you’re reading this and you’re able to catch it before the end of its run at Vault Festival, then do. If not, pray along with me that Hartley’s piece is picked up and that you get another chance. By the end, I was wishing I’d worn my cowboy boots to throw them at him as some kind of tribute.
Gun played the Waterloo East Theatre until the 4th February. For more information and tickets, see https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/gun/.