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Interview: Oliver Lansley on Liberty Valance and new talent

12 May 2014 Charlie Kenber

“We get to spend our day playing with guns and speaking in a Western drawl – what more could you ask for!”

Ahead of the opening of a new stage adaptation of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Jethro Compton at the Park Theatre, we caught up with leading man (and Artistic Director of Les Enfants Terribles), Oliver Lansley…

London Calling: How are rehearsals going?

Oliver Lansley: Great! Fantastic. To be honest it’s a bit of a boy’s dream rehearsing a Western. We had a delivery of guns yesterday, which meant that obviously we got quite a lot of work done...! We spent about two hours quick drawing each other.

LC: What sort of research have you had to do into the Wild West?

OL: It’s such an iconic genre, so there’s been a lot of looking at those references. But we’ve stayed away from the film of Liberty Valance, because it is that but it’s also based on the short story as well.

It’s so rare that you see a Western on stage: certainly for me as an audience member then I want to see all those tropes and iconic moments. So it’s been a lot about looking at everything from the Dollars Trilogy to Deadwood and classic Westerns.

LC: That must be quite a challenge, because one of the things common amongst Westerns is the sheer size of the desert environments. Is that especially difficult to bring to a stage?

OL: Well it is and to be honest that was one of the things that I initially thought would be tricky, but actually Jethro [Compton, the adapter and director] has done a fantastic job with the script. The whole thing is set in this saloon. What he’s managed to capture very well is you get the sense that it’s all there and it’s just outside the door.

LC: What drew you to the project?

OL: When Jethro approached me immediately I was interested, because the idea of doing a Western on stage intrigued me. Then reading the script it was just great. A really classic story, about this New Yorker, wet-behind-the-ears, educated man who wandered out into the West looking for adventure, and he ends up getting beaten up and finding himself in the middle of this nowhere town.

It’s a fantastically exciting part to play. We get to spend our day playing with guns and speaking in a Western drawl – what more could you ask for!

LC: Do you think there’s a specific type of audience the show will appeal to?

OL: It’s a mix really, it’s got a nice edge in that it feels very intimate and you feel close to the action. The production values are great and it’s like stepping inside this saloon. There’s a good love story, there’s a bit of action, there’s guns, there’s drama, there’s comedy, so it’s got a bit of everything really!

LC: Personally you’ve done a lot of writing – do you find that it feeds into your acting, or do you just like the mix?

OL: Working on both disciplines very much educates you from one to the other. I’m lucky enough to do a lot of theatre with my company Les Enfants Terribles, but I also do a lot of telly stuff, both acting and writing. For me having that mix keeps everything fresh and keeps everything exciting. You learn one thing from one and you can put that into practice with the other thing.

This has been fantastic for me because I’m just an actor. So I just need to come on and stand in the right place and say the right words and I don’t have to worry about anything else. Great fun!

LC: How does the work with Les Enfants Terribles fit in? Does it allow you to make more personal shows?

OL: It’s been twelve years or so now – that’s always been my little passion project. I say little, now it’s grown and grown which is amazing. We’ve got two shows touring at the moment, we’re going to be taking two shows up to Edinburgh, we’ve got a big new show at the end of the year planned, so it’s huge.

Over the years I’ve built up a really fantastic group of people who I trust…it gives me a fantastic outlet to be able to make theatre that I want to make and that I’m excited about being involved with. It’s always something that I’ll keep going back to that feeds everything else.

LC: How do you keep the energy up and the work fresh after twelve years?

OL: I think that as long as the work is exciting to us we’ll be able to continue doing it and hopefully other people will find it exciting as well. Theatre’s a hard thing to keep going for that amount of time, funding and all that is very tricky. It’s got to be something that you’re incredibly passionate about.

LC: One of the great things you run is the Les Enfants Terribles Award for young companies to make new work. How important is that to you?

OL: The Award is one of my favourite things that we do. We set it up three years ago now and the ideas was to create this award that offered young theatre companies exactly what I needed when I started up. When I started Les Enfants I had no idea what I was doing…I needed a space, I needed some money and I needed a little bit of guidance, and that’s exactly what the Award sets out to do.

What’s been fantastic about the Award is that although obviously we have a winner every year, alongside that we have ten shortlisted companies who all come in and perform ten minutes of their show, and usually at least half of those companies end up going on and producing the show full length. We offer mentoring to anyone who comes and asks for it.

Those Award nights that we hold every year are some of my favourite things that we do, because you get to see all these incredible, brilliant and exciting young theatre companies with that fire in their eyes of just wanting to do something.

The theatre scene at the moment is hard; it’s very hard to break through as a young company. If you just want to put on a show there aren’t that many opportunities so I think it’s incredibly important to support and inspire an entrepreneurial attitude within young theatre makers, because that’s how stuff gets made by people just digging in their heels and gritting their teeth, scraping together any pennies that they earn and putting it on.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is on at the Park Theatre from 14th May – 22nd June. Tickets from £12 - £19.50, available here.

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