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Anne Get Your Gun

Anne Get Your Gun
Reviewer's rating

British weather might well have ruined this event, but it didn’t. Rather we were blown away by the terrific performance  of the cast who sang and danced with gusto throughout the whole show in the  pouring rain. That aside, the outside environment is perfectly suited to the way-out-west nature of the show. This is the first production from the new Lavender Theatre, set in the beautiful purple landscape of a lavender farm in Epsom.  They have an excellent setup and some enthusiastic staff who battled heroically to overcome the rain on the day I saw the performance. Having never seen the play before, and knowing it was Irving Berlin’s music and lyrics, I had high hopes for the production and was not disappointed.

The whole play revolves round two sharp shooters in  Buffalo  Bill’s Wild West Show, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler and their on/off romance.  The book of the play written by Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert, is based on a fictionalised version of the life of real-life pair of sharp shooters. With an exuberant opening number of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ and the whole cast singing and dancing, the show is set up so we know we are involved in watching the life and loves of a show.

A jovial Buffalo Bill played by Elliot Broadfoot Bill makes a bet setting Frank and Annie up against each other in a shooting competition, but this back fires as Frank is miffed at losing to Annie.  Bill recognises Annie as a crowd-puller and since he is struggling to keep his Wild West Show on the road, he engages the naïve Annie Oakley to boost ratings.

Annie, played with guts and confidence by SuRie, lets us know from the start that she isn’t ‘some lily-livered rag doll who just lies down so you can stomp all over her.’  Though Annie recognises the difficulty of being a gunslinging woman, she refuses to become the supplicant wife Frank says he wants.  Her recognition of this is realised in the song ‘You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun’, with the glorious line ‘ a man might be hot, but he’s not when he’s shot’.

Annie’s unsophisticated approach to her talent mocks male expectations of female stereotypes when compared with the male lead, Frank Butler’s boastful demeanour.  The nub of the action is that Frank does not like being outshone (or outshot) by Annie, and Annie will not give in to Franks’ ego, though they are obviously in love. The story is given a nice feminist twist in this revision by Peter Stone, a wise decision for modern day audiences given the misogyny and racism in the original version of the 1940’s musical. Thankfully, Frank’s womanising song ‘I’m a Bad Bad Man’ is cut in this version which makes Frank more amenable to the audience. Charlie McCullagh plays Frank as sexy but gentle, playing down the more overbearing attitude the part lays out, making us love him too.

Every one of the cast of fifteen had considerable singing and dancing abilities, their passion and talent shone out. The choreography and direction by Simon Hardwick was spot on and the live musicians fed into the show with Brillo. The high quality of the whole production overall made for a memorable outing….and well done for making it appear so effortless in that awful weather.

With twenty musical numbers and energetic dancing and singing from beginning to end, we were left nicely warmed despite the rain….and, after a standing ovation, audience members really did leave the venue singing.