ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at the Lavender Theatre
“SuRie, as the gun-toting Annie, carries the show – nailing her character with gunslinging accuracy.”
There could potentially be a fair bit to censure in the 1950s American musical, “Annie Get Your Gun”, especially with modern audiences whose awareness of racism, sexism and cultural sensitivities have shifted since the musical was written. And Irving Berlin’s “The Girl That I Marry” would surely get even the laziest feminist pounding her twitter feed in rage at its undisguised misogyny and condescension towards women. And throwaway jokes about swindling Native Americans out of their oil? Come on! But that is a debate I’m not entering into here. Except to say that the creators behind the inaugural season at Lavender Theatre have rightly decided that we have the wit and imagination to know that we are watching something from a different age. We can cope. And Simon Hardwick’s production, surrounded by the purple haze of lavender fields, shoots down any pre-packed misgivings that people may have in a feel-good blaze of escapism and classic entertainment.
It’s hard to come across a more winning opener than “There’s no Business Like Show Business”, which builds from its mellow summer breeze into a gusty and gutsy chorus, framing the story within Buffalo Bill’s Wild West touring show. Elliot Broadfoot’s impressive presence as Buffalo Bill Cody keeps a tight rein on the action, pinpointing the chapters of what is essentially a good old-fashioned love story. Annie Oakley (SuRie) rocks up into a small town in Ohio, and with her extraordinary shooting skills, catches the attention of champion marksman Frank Butler (Charlie McCullagh). The two are instantly smitten, but when Annie’s rising star begins to outshine Frank’s, the trouble starts.
SuRie, as the gun-toting Annie, carries the show – nailing her character with gunslinging accuracy. Gamine, yet sassily aware of her femininity, her charisma hangs over the stage like aromatic gunpowder. SuRie is clearly “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly”. Equally believable is McCullagh’s Frank Butler. The chemistry between the two cautions us to stand back while sparks fly yet draws us in close to get a true feel for their inescapable magnetism. Drawn into their orbit are a fine cast. Frank’s spurned, scheming assistant, Dolly Tate, is gilded with Chlöe Hart’s comedic flair, while Jay Faisca’s ‘Chief Sitting Bull’ has a self-deprecating gravitas that gives a nod and a wink to the caricature he could be, yet still staying believable.
The open-air setting lends an appropriate festival feel, though more village fete than rodeo. It is as the sun sets that the magic filters through, conjured by and large by Berlin’s iconic songs. The classic foot tappers cannot fail to plant a smile on us, while the more stripped back, softer numbers dig deeper. SuRie’s vocals come into their own during “Moonshine Lullaby”, for example, or “I Got Lost in His Arms”, before rising to the duel of “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” with McCullagh – a fabulous moment of affectionate rivalry and harmonic one-upmanship.
Everybody wins. The guy gets the girl, and the girl gets her man (after learning, of course, that “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun”). The real winners are the audience. It is a little bit out in the sticks, but that shouldn’t stop anyone making the effort to get there. “Let’s Go On With the Show… Everything about it is appealing”. The newly formed Lavender Theatre are on to a winner with this well aimed revival, that hits the mark.
Reviewed on 21st July 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Harry Elletson
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