Conceived as an afterpiece to the projected Tombstone trilogy, and inspired by the true stories behind some of the graves in the notorious Boot Hill, this was a graveyard cabaret, a parlour vaudeville, with songs and dances drawing on styles as disparate as Victorian Music Hall, Melodrama, Gilbert and Sullivan and the Elizabethan Jig.

As Schtanhaus closed its books, and Morris and Stenning transferred their highly effective partnership to the running of the Bristol Old Vic, the Arcola Theatre took over the reins in the production of this show, which was the first to headline Beggarsbelief in the publicity.

Writer/Director Carl Heap
Assistant Director Russell Bender
Designers Miriam Nabarro and Mila Sanders
Musical Director Joe Townsend
Lighting Designer Richard Williamson
Choreographer Jane Gibson


Alan Devally: (guitar)

Doc Goodfellow, Lester Moore, Johnny-Behind-The-Deuce, Magician, Mexican musician, Ed Bradshaw.

Chris Doyle: (tin whistle)

Milt Joyce, Drunken Cowboy, Morgan Earp, George Johnson, Thomas FitzHugh, Outlaw/Horse, Tom Waters.

Tom Espiner: (fiddle)

Ed Schieffelin, Charlie Storms, Phil Schneider, Man bearing news, Bob Paul, Apache

Marc Forde: (piano/MD)

Rev MacIntyre, Luke Short, Bud Philpot, Captain Carillo.

Erica Guyatt:

Dutch Annie, Fred White, Margarita, Virgil Earp, Tombstone Reporter, Mrs Kellogg, Outlaw/Horse, Thomas Waters.

Tom McHugh:

Bat Masterson, John Clum, Curly Bill, Billy Milgreen, 2nd Apache, Shopkeeper.

Victoria Moseley:

Clara Spalding Brown, Wyatt Earp, Hank Dunstan, Malvina Lopez, Outlaw/Horse. 

Ian Summers:

George Parsons, Drunken Cowboy, Gold Dollar, John Gibson, Outlaw/Horse, Old Man Clanton, Mike Noonan, Barman.

 Support Ensemble:

Anne Adeleke: Delia William – boarding house proprietress

Yoko Brewer: John L Fonck – Furniture Store-keeper

Dawn Davies: Cora Davis – Girl of the night

James Grant: Pete Roerig – miner


“… pays vivid theatrical homage to the lives – and deaths – of the incumbents of Boothill Cemetery… In what loosely resembles a frontier version of Shockheaded Peter, Heap’s crack ensemble romps through a series of boozy gunfights, suicides, hangings and murders… Joe Townsend’s excellent live score is marinated in the folk sounds of saloon-bar blues and parlour songs, and provides an apt vehicle for Heap’s witty narrative-driven lyrics. Heap also directs with humour and flair – shadow puppets prove an ingenious way of illustrating a gunfight (easy to show the bullet holes), while the suicide pact of John Gibson and Malvina Lopez, sung in the form of a murder ballad, is beautifully done… superbly performed vignettes.”

Claire Allfree. Metro 24/11/08

“This show made me laugh out loud, the company are talented and tireless, and The Song of Gold Dollar is worth the price of admission in itself. The latter stories are more sombre, with the poignantly pathological tale of The Golden Stairs, and even a suspicion of a socially-relevant moral. But if you thought that what The Masque of the Red Death lacked was a cross-dressed bar-room catfight, then you’re in for a treat with Tombstone Tales. It’s an uncommon and outlandish festive offering, fusing audience participation and sing-along with a light-heartedly lugubrious tour through the forgotten grave-dwellers of Tombstone. Check your guns at the door, grab a glass of sipping liquor, pull up a chair, and enjoy.”

Stephe Harrop. London Theatre Blog 21/11/08

“the show has an air of mischief about it… very likeable and engagingly different from the usual festive fare.”

Sarah Hemming. Financial Times 25/11/08

“Hurtling through at an energetic pace, carried brilliantly by the cast, we are engrossed by this forgotten town and by the brilliantly wayward tales it has to tell…. The reason this production works so well is down to the abundant skill, dexterity and joyous commitment of the performers. As an ensemble they demonstrate a wonderful array of talents in music, singing, physicality and multiple characterisations that seem to flow endlessly and effortlessly from all of them. Bounding about the space, into the audience, over the chairs and even onto the cabaret tables, the actors are utterly gripped by the stories and simply revel in sharing them with us, making any resistance on our part both futile and foolish…. I laughed, clapped and sang along with the entire audience in this highly entertaining, often hilarious, sometimes poignant production, and felt entirely won over by this gaggle of westerns from a town called Tombstone. In short, a highly recommendable show that offers something more than just a good ‘ole knees up.”

Hannah Kew. WhatsOnStage 24/11/08

“Told in part through song, this is a lively, if macabre, collage of shootings and hangings and other messy ends….this eccentric production remains an appealing, amusing, and sometimes even poignant prospect.”

Natasha Tripney.  The Stage 25/11/08

“…lashings of lurid fun. A kind of grisly Wild West cabaret…There are catfighting prostitutes, boozy hoodlums and glowering gun-slingers (including a striking cross-dressed Victoria Moseley as the infamous Wyatt Earp). There are angry Apaches, a chorus of singing horned cattle and prancing horses to pull a stage-coach – all conveyed through playful physicality and Jane Gibson’s simple choreography…the best of which is a dazzling table-top clog dance, performed by Chris Doyle, that grotesquely suggests the death spasms of a man unjustly hanged for murder.”

 Sam Marlowe. The Times 25/11/08

“It’s a lively piece of theatre with a rough, unpolished charm …While it’s true this show makes entertainment out of violent death, it doesn’t do so in a flippant manner, indeed it acknowledges the harsh nature of life in the West and paints a fairly clear picture of how grim and messy existence was for people in a place like Tombstone. But if you give in to it, if you go with the bullet-strewn flow, it’s undeniably entertaining stuff.”

Music OMH

“It is all stylishly delivered by a hard-working all-singing all-dancing cast that gives us a mixture of ballad, melodrama, shadow theatre and magic acts, including a couple of audience participations song sheet numbers…. it relies on the vitality of the performers to keep it going from item to item but keep going it does with some delightful playing that is sometimes touchingly natural but mainly melodramatic and always carefully choreographed….

Chris Doyle provides a high spot of the show with a staggering table top Irish dance of death on the gallows by a man who shouldn’t have been hanged at all. In another great scene all the cast get involved in a stage coach hold-up with four of them splendid as horses, but also having to slip out of harness to double as outlaws and to provide the cactus landscape they are galloping past.

The cast’s playing may seem carefree and easy but this is a carefully crafted show that is deceptively fast moving and complex. Miriam Nabarro has given it the simplest of settings suggesting the stage of the Birdcage Theatre and the atmosphere of the Oriental Saloon largely by the placing of the audience, a pair of swing half-doors and a few fringed light shades. Composer Joe Townsend has composed tunes that sound so like the old songs that you don’t realise they aren’t; Jane Gibson has arranged dances that are delightful whether prancing horses or a twirling between cabaret tables and Richard Williamson has lit it atmospherically. It is very much a team show but one in which everyone gets their moments. Even though the grim reaper is stalking Tombstone’s streets (yes, quite literally) the audience is having a good time.”

Howard Loxton. The British Theatre Guide

“… if you want to be enlightened and entertained, mosey on down to the Arcola Theatre… everyone should see it – and if you have horses, take them, too.”

Clive Sinclair. TLS 12/12/08



‘True stories’

“True”, in the context of the American Old West, is a word that carries a warning. It generally signals that someone is out to soften you up for a tall story with a kernel of truth somewhere in the middle of it. To be taken with a pinch of salt.


The impulse on the one side to dish up tall stories, and the appetite to consume them on the other, were there at the start, long before Hollywood organised the myth-making on a mass scale. The pioneers heading west took delight in exaggerating accounts of events to impress the timorous stay-at-homers back east, greedy for vicarious adventure. The new film industry was quick off the mark. The first ever feature film success was a western, Edwin S Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) – based on a now lost stage play.


Very few stage plays have followed. This is understandable – the stage is hard pressed to compete with film in offering the standard genre pleasures: breath-taking landscapes, galloping horses or convincing gun violence. The stage/film musical, in “Seven Brides”, “Oklahoma”, “Calamity Jane” etc has garnered to itself the folksier and more light-hearted aspects, the thigh-slapping and the “yeehahs”, appealing to American nostalgia for the simple life of the frontier.


Although I am a huge fan of the best film westerns, this is not a homage to cinema, or a spoof of the Western genre. When I started to research for a play about what has become known as The Gunfight at the OK Corral (it actually took place in a vacant lot just round the corner), I also watched the Wyatt Earp films again and found myself growing in opposition to the narrowing effects of the genre. The obligation to grind out action formulae, to provide star vehicles, to oversimplify moral issues to ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ all obscure and distort a much more complex and interesting history.


It was in the course of my research that I happened upon a website which instantly captured my imagination. lists just over a half of the 250-or-so casualties known to be buried in Tombstone City Cemetery, mostly between 1878 and 1884, giving name, date, cause of death, and the odd snippet of extra information, the odd poem. Some survive only as a nickname; others are better documented. These are people that Hollywood never seems to find space for, living in the shadow of the bigger story. It is their stories you are to hear tonight. There is little here that is heroic on the grand scale, but much that is comic, tragic, poignant, grotesque, banal, bizarre.


To tell their stories I have borrowed from the performance idioms of their time – not just music hall and melodrama, but the cowboy ballad, folk dances, and parlour songs and games. However, although I am turning their stories into entertainment, please keep your salt-pinching fingers in suspension. Too much salt is bad for your heart.


My pinching fingers have been exercised in frequently reminding myself that the people in these stories are real and that the events actually happened. And not all that long ago. My American mother, had her German émigré family not chosen to stay in upstate New York, could have found Wyatt Earp in San Francisco in 1929, and, at the age of 9, shaken the hand of the still living legend. She could have found him on a film set, dispensing some advice to his friend John Ford and a stuntman/bit-part actor named Marion Morrison, later to be known as John Wayne. The myth-making machine was in full swing, and Earp was a co-conspirator.


So allow me to assert that similarities to the characters and the events portrayed in this motion picture are intended. I have versified, but I have invented as little as possible. Where possible, the words spoken are as recorded or reported in the columns of the Tombstone Epitaph, the journal of George Parsons, the dispatches of Clara Spalding Brown, the autobiography of John Clum.


If you came tonight in the hope of catching the biggest Tombstone Tale, please be patient. “The True History of the Gunfight at (or near) the OK Corral” is written, and awaits the producer and funding that will allow it to be performed by a paid cast that goes into double figures.


P.S. The Pinch of Salt


For the record…


  • There is no evidence of where Phil Schneider was buried, but it’s a good guess. 
  • Bud Philpot was not buried in Tombstone – his body was taken back by his wife to be buried in Calistoga, in California. The stage hold-up took place in the evening but I’d already written the ballad by the time I found out. Forgive me that one.
  • It’s not known why John Gibson and Malvina Lopez took their lives – they didn’t leave a note, so I’ve allowed myself to imagine.
  • There were areas of doubt in the stories of Lester Moore, of Miles Kellogg and George Johnson before I got to them. But that they died in the manner described and were buried in Boot Hill we have little reason to doubt.


Carl Heap


Historical Note


Tombstone of the early 1880s was not a community where people had grown up together over generations. Nor was it the sort of place that homesteaders would roll into with their covered wagons, to put down their roots and begin the raising of future generations. It was sited on a patch of desert in what was then Arizona Territory – if prospector Ed Schieffelin hadn’t discovered the silver (in 1878), it may never have achieved statehood, and might well have been given back to neighbouring Mexico, from whom it had been acquired only thirty years earlier.


The silver attracted a wave of treasure-seekers, of many nationalities, and from all over America: mostly young and single men, who planned to make their fortunes as quickly as possible and leave – as did Ed Schieffelin. Close behind them came the camp followers, servicing the immediate needs of the miners: saloonkeepers, gamblers, prostitutes, and shopkeepers. Within two years of the first arrivals at this desert camp, Tombstone had shops selling the latest fashions, ice-cream parlours and a host of entertainment venues, notably the Birdcage Theatre, that drew all the latest acts from San Francisco. Within a year of the London premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore”, a touring production, “Pinafore on Wheels”, arrived in Tombstone.


A further more bourgeois wave of doctors, lawyers, ministers of religion, began to address the issues of community building, if only to secure a safe environment for capitalist enterprise – being treasure seekers themselves. Unlike gold, silver needs large mills to convert the ore into metal, so there was also an industrial engineering strand to a population that barely ever topped 5,000 at the height of the boom.


Outside the town there was a scattering of ranches, but the grazing was of poor quality and mostly they provided a respectable front for cross-border rustling – with the butchers of Tombstone and their customers none too concerned about the dishonest sourcing of their supply of cheap beef. The ‘cowboys’ – many of them wanted men in neighbouring states – also turned their hands to other forms of crime such as stage robbery. They were tolerated by some of the public because, in addition to the army outposts, they provided an extra layer of protection against the occasional threat of marauding Apaches, not always content to stay on their reservations.


It was not a family friendly place. The apparatus of law was makeshift and some of its officers corruptible, a significant factor in the events leading up to the famous OK Corral gunfight. The original Tombstone City Cemetery later became known as Boot Hill for the high proportion of its residents who died with their boots on, i.e. violently. The grave markers attest to the presence of women and children, whose numbers grew as Tombstone became more established.


In the interests of dramatic economy, I have introduced several archetypal figures, who are real individuals standing in for their professions. There were many saloons and saloonkeepers in Tombstone, but Milt Joyce is standing in for them all, as is Doc Goodfellow for the several doctors, The Reverend MacIntyre for the several ministers of religion, and Dutch Annie for the numerous brothel madams. Wyatt Earp held fewer official law-enforcement posts than his brother Virgil, but he more than justifies his inclusion as our generic arresting officer.